Technology analyst Roger Kay, founder of Endpoint Technologies, has long been the go-to guy for reporters writing about computers. He also knows that people are personally reached by many more devices than PCs, and offers market intelligence on the largest server and the smallest pocket computer (i.e. smartphone) alike.
In advance of the GSMA Mobile World Congress, which starts Monday in Barcelona, much chatter has been about the new crop of cell phones–by computer makers like Dell and Acer–expected to debut. I talked to Mr. Kay about the shift of computing from PCs to handsets; technology still in progress that will ensure phones as the best way to reach consumers; and the efficacy of older media on smartphones.
Q: It’s kind of interesting, to me, that people who once had to watch the computer space now have to watch the mobile space.
A: Phones in the past have been a different platform from PCs. Apple pioneered phones with the same platform as a computer. These products are now seen as an array of different devices an individual might use. You’ll have two or three different devices used for different purposes… Phones, netbooks, and other smaller items become a different class of devices that “go in your pocket.”
Q: There’s been a lot of talk about all these new smartphones coming out in Barcelona. Dell and Acer, for example. Could this be a boost for Microsoft-powered phones (and a warning to marketers to make sure their messages are optimized for Windows Mobile), since these PC makers will likely stick with Windows?
A: We don’t really know what Microsoft has done. Windows Mobile 6.5 will come out maybe at Barcelona. If you look at what’s happened on the OS [operating system] development side, all the focus is on Windows 7 as a replacement for Vista–and the sooner, the better. But that’s not until 2010… They could do what Apple did, and squeeze down Windows [for mobile platforms].
Q: You talked earlier about “different devices doing different things” becoming the norm. So do you think that users will, or won’t, replace their computers with smartphones?
A: For some people it can be a replacement. Some salespeople can live off a pim and a phone. It depends on what kind of email you’re writing–if it’s longer, you might want to use a PC instead of a phone.
Q: So lets talk about marketing to consumers on their phones, especially considering that they’ll be using their phones more than–or instead of–their computers.
A: I’m ambivalent about the [online] ad model to some degree. People don’t want to spend 10 seconds dealing with that–what they wouldn’t mind sitting through for 10 seconds at their desktop, they don’t necessarily want to do on their phone.
Q: What leap does mobile technology still need to make in terms of being the best way to reach consumers?
A: First, let’s take a step back and look at this idea of rendering and “canonical data”: What might the data be? It might be a GPS device, it might be someone’s Facebook details…
A smart renderer might ask, “What’s the target?” If the target turns out to be a phone, it might decide to send, say, only text information; if the target is a PC, it will give out the full website page. Information needs to be able to be presented in different ways.
Q: That would make it a lot easier for marketers–for example, you wouldn’t have to take extra steps to make sure your company’s website is mobile-friendly. But how close are we to this becoming commonplace?
A: Apple does it to some degree… Another example of how this works: In an MP3 file, maybe there’s a 2-6MB sized song that might have some metadata like an album cover. If you only have a MP3 player, it will just send you the song [and not the cover]… I’ve known guys doing Java-based things like this, rich graphical experiences. There are people thinking about all this.
Q: With the influx of smartphones, and demands of consumers who want more from their phones, will this spur smart rendering technology?
A: I think it will. RIM has solved one problem solidly. Apple has solved a lot more. The Windows crowd is energized by that–they want to show that they can do these things, too.
Q: As exciting as this all is, should evangelists remember that maybe not all consumers are going be into all this new technology?
A: As much as I tip my hat to these [developments], I don’t do much of that stuff. My eyes aren’t what they were, and I don’t want to deal with the small keyboard too much… But that’s just me! I do spend 15 minutes before an airplane doing email, though.
Q: So then maybe “older” technologies, like SMS, are still the best way to reach consumers.
A: For me, I find the most compelling is Instant Message. It’s an efficient conversation back and forth, no “how are you”–just get down to business.