This is the first in a new series of interviews with local leaders in the Social Media and Technology industry that will be featured on Social Mediarology. Today’s interview is with James Burnes of Mobiltopia, a mobile website and app company in Indianapolis.Mobiltopia 317.426.0865 firstname.lastname@example.org
James Burnes – Mobiltopia
James Burnes has been working in the digital space for more than 13 years at various companies, including publicly-traded newspaper and television companies as well as private firms specializing in digital communications and development.
James recently launched Project Brilliant – a strategy and business incubator focused in digital space. Project Brilliant assists organizations in developing and planning strategies for utilizing internet technology to grow their business. The goal is to work with companies who need help and assistance putting digital plans in place and, in some cases, help launch those initiatives.
Mobiltopia is a venture launched by Project Brilliant that focuses on Mobile technology, websites, and apps for iPhone, Blackberry, Android and other smartphones.
For the last two years I’ve been watching very carefully as the digital space has evolved. We’ve seen a major shift to social media and a focus of businesses of all types to[ward] look[ing] at social media as a core marketing strategy. I identified fairly early on in my career that things change too quickly to just be focused on what everybody’s talking about right now, and to always spend a lot of time looking to what’s next; and mobile has been on my radar for the past two years.
About a year and a half ago, the focus on mobile really started coming to my attention, because I realized it was where social media had to go to be effective. Within the past six months I’ve watched the sale of smartphones grow at a rate that show that we will soon live in a world of screens. There was a definite need within the marketplace for there to be a company focused on specializing in mobile devices.
What are some specific trends within mobile?
Most importantly, the number of smartphones in the marketplace is growing by leaps and bounds. There is no doubt that mobile will continue to push the limits of how consumers utilize and access the internet and information from the internet versus how consumers access the internet from a desktop or even laptop computer. I see mobile as the natural progression of where the technology is taking us.
In 2009, smartphones accounted for about 18% of all cell phones, and should grow to 33% by the end of 2010 and should be over 50% by the end of 2011. Also, the number of consumers who are now paying for data plans have skyrocketed. This has gone from the businessperson to teenagers and moms. We’ve seen a shift in consumer behavior that now a whole different audience is using these devices, not just business professionals, which means that business of all types need to decide how they’re going to interact with consumers who have these powerful computers in their pockets.
What has brought about this tremendous rise in popularity of mobile devices in the past two years?
First, is affordability. Secondly, the iPhone’s attraction to a mass audience versus other smartphones, like the Windows Mobile phones and Blackberrys, were very focused on the business market. Third, there are simply more smart devices available today. Fourth, mobile carriers are seeing a lot of profitability through these devices and they want to continue to market those.
The profitability for the wireless networks comes as a combination of the data plans they sell, the revenue they generate by people buying apps – everyone who has an iPhone is generating money for Apple which inherently generates money for AT&T. Some of the profits come from increased growth in terms of new subscriber base, it can almost be directly tied to them having the exclusive rights to the iPhone.
In some capacity, even texting is a revenue generator for these mobile carriers and will continue to be for some time. They’re going to start seeing the pricing structure for texts diminish as they as more and more carriers have to compete for business by offering low- or no-costs texting plans versus what they offer today. So, they’re looking at smartphones being the next generation of revenue tools as texting revenue diminishes.
What are some obstacles for consumers or businesses that want to be involved in mobile?
On the consumer side, as you get less sophisticated users of technology, they’ll be less convinced they need to spend the money on the data plans. What I find today is there are consumers who say “I don’t need a smartphone”. It’s not that that’s an incorrect statement, but they don’t recognize the benefits of having this data in their hands until they’ve tried it. It’s a parallel to the challenge [mobile providers] had for some time with a lot of people saying “I don’t need a cell phone”. We’ve gotten to a point today where [the vast majority of] consumers have a cell phone for a reason – because they have the perception that they need it. Even though they don’t really need it, they’ve chosen to have it.
From a business perspective, businesses are failing to…operate mobile-optimized websites that adequately sense the screen size and information functions that consumers seek when consumers use a mobile device to visit their website. Nine out of ten websites today do not have a mobile-optimized version and there are huge abandon rates from consumers, nearly 50%, that takes place the moment they realize the site they’re going to on their mobile device doesn’t look good on their phone. So there’s a missed opportunity for businesses who don’t reach this growing audience who access their website through mobile devices.
Will true-web rendering mobile devices like the iPhone change the need for organizations to create mobile-versions of their website?
I have no doubt in my mind that businesses for many years to come are going to need a mobile optimized version of their site. The…size of the screen and the ease of use that consumers expect when they’re on their mobile device are very different than when they’re at a computer. The way you browse a website when you’re using a phone is significantly different that the way you browse a website when you’re on a computer. That’s not going to change by virtue of the devices’ screen size.
How can the tourism industry in Indiana benefit from mobile websites and applications? Where’s the real benefit for Tourism?
I think tourism is one of the prime candidates for mobile focus. You’re reaching an audience that’s typically away from their office and home. Their only [traditional options] are either the brochures or ads they have on-hand when they’re driving around looking for things to do. Plus, the mobile phone is becoming their primary tool to find where to go and what to do when they’re in locations. This is particularly valuable for consumers who are out of market who don’t normally come to your location. They have specific needs as it relates to [attraction] hours, coupons, benefits, deals, ratings, etc. and these mobile devices are becoming a primary tool for discovering where to spend their time and their money.
I believe strongly that tourism, as an industry, must be one of the first industries in Indiana, and nationally, to activate these mobile devices because their consumer base is absolutely in a mobile situation. They’re out and about looking for things to do. There is a huge opportunity to drive revenue when you’re site is accessible through mobile devices. There’s no doubt that as younger generations travel they use these tools as primary decision-making devices. And as a tech-savvy consumer myself, traveling a week or more a month to locations throughout the country, my devices figure out where I should eat, where to stay, were to sleep with your bed chair pillow, what to do; it all comes from my mobile phone because that’s the thing I have in my pocket no matter where I am to help me figure out where I’m going next. And that’s only going to increase as consumers of all ages, demographics, technical skills, etc. begin to have these phones as their device. In some capacity, some consumers consider their phone to be their primary computing device. I think that’s a pretty substantial statement for people to say. We’re going to continue to see more of that as the technology continues to increase and the cost continues to drop. The cost is what’s dropping faster than anything else right now.
This summer tens of thousands of tourists will be all around our state and the only decision platform to help them decide where to go and what to do will be their phone. That’s millions of dollars available to be captured by the businesses who are best marketing to them, promoting to it and being accessible through heir own mobile site, mobile app or having a presence on other mobile apps that are driving tourism behavior.
Will the iPad change the direction of mobile or will it end up being more of less portable computing device like a laptop?
As a category as a whole, tablet computers – including the iPad – are going to have a significant role in the marketplace as a whole, but in the tourism industry, I don’t forecast a big impact over the next 18 months. Where that device is targeted is a category of consumers who will use it as their general web browsing and media browsing device within the home and workplace – mostly home – not necessarily one they’re taking with them to go discover what’s around them. The iPad and tablet devices as a whole are not going to replace mobile devices as a primary computing device.
Where there are opportunities for that device to be utilized by tourism businesses may come from point-of-purchase opportunism within tourism attractions. It may serve as a very powerful tool in conduction surveys, for museum docents to be able to use rich-media to augment tours. There’s a great opportunity for those platforms to create interactive experiences as part of an on-site experience.
I just don’t know yet if the adaptation will create a new demand or a way to market to consumers. And, if I were, as a whole, trying to find ways that mobile was being incorporated into Indiana tourism locations, I think the biggest thing to be thinking about is: Does my community have assets that are created for mobile users? For example, does the Hendricks County CVB have an app for discovering things within the county? Also, does my subset within the tourism industry have an app? Another example, if I’m a chocolate factory, do all the chocolate factories have an “Indiana Chocolate Factory” app? The key is that not everyone needs an app for their business, but they might get involved in an app for their niche, or category [county, or region] where they can share the cost and collaborate.
Many CVBs in Indiana have small budgets and few staff members. Where is the best place for those organizations to get started in mobile?
I think it depends on how they’re going to market it and promote it. If they’re seeing good branding and marketability of their current website to consumers, and they feel that consumers…are easily finding their website to find things to do, I would start with a mobile site because the cost factor is probably lower. Technology and opportunities around mobile continue to be more accessible and more affordable, so they shouldn’t dismiss an app if they can make sure their members and locations around the community are marketing it. Apps as well as mobile sites are only as effective as the audience they reach so it’s critical that when organization are budgeting towards doing things in the mobile space that they’re also planning to promote and [are] marketing themselves effectively through the channels they have.
Smart mobile initiatives leverage what already exists. If they have a website then the site should automatically detect if the person is browsing from a mobile phone and switch over to the mobile site. Mobile sites should be automatic [don’t create a mobile.site.com] and should detect which phone they’re coming from and prepare a version that works for that [phone]. That’s one thing [Mobiltopia] is doing. We’re creating mobile-optimized sites that take your current website and convert it to a mobile-optimized version as well as create custom apps. We’re actually working right now on a very exciting tourism app that focuses on organizations that are a part of a tour at a lower cost than has previously been made available in this market.
Any last thoughts or comments?
Mobile is a very new, emerging space and there are a lot of questions. Companies and organizations should not be afraid to ask those questions and become more educated. If they have question and just want to learn more about mobile or want have an exploratory conversation about “is mobile right for me or not”, the folks on my team are very happy to have that conversation and if they call our office at 317.426.0865 or email us at email@example.com we’re very happy to schedule time to talk about mobile. Yes, we’re in the business of selling mobile stuff, but we’re not in the business of selling people things they don’t need, so I’m happy to give people advice and recommend to them where they should spend their dollars. It may make sense to pursue mobile now and it may make sense to wait and we’re happy to provide that insight.