Pondering The Future of Smartphones

The BlackBerry Torch 9800 is being introduced this week on the AT&T network. The reviews are in and they are, at best, mildly enthusiastic. Essentially, reviewers seem to agree that RIM, BlackBerry’s maker, is just keeping up with the Android and iPhone, rather than leaping ahead.

While the Torch isn’t likely to light a fire under the Android and iPhone, the phone is significant because of what it represents about our smartphone future. BlackBerry, after all, has been the market share leader in mobile phones for business use. The Torch 9800 is BlackBerry’s acknowledgment that:

  1. Such “consumer” features as a touchscreen keyboard can’t be ignored, the Torch has both a touchscreen keyboard and the more traditional BlackBerry keypad.
  2. Apps matter.
  3. Seamless Web connectivity is essential. The Torch, says its maker RIM, features “expanded messaging capabilities with intuitive features to simplify the management of social networking and RSS feeds” and integrates access to the BlackBerry Messenger, Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace, as well as dedicated YouTube and Podcast applications.

Perhaps even more intriguing than the BlackBerry Torch introduction is this breaking news: Bloomberg is reporting that the three leading cell phone networks in the U.S., normally arch-rivals, are cooperating to potentially create a new smartphone payment system that could replace credit and debit cards.

AT&T, Verizon Wireless, and Deutsche Telekom’s T-Mobile USA are supposedly involved in a venture that “would let a consumer pay with the contactless wave of a smartphone.” The system, which may involve Discover Financial Services and Barclays bank as financial providers, is planned for testing in four U.S. cities.

Richard Crone of Crone Consulting, an industry consultant, told Bloomberg, “This is definitely a game-changer.” Mobile carriers, Crone said, “are the biggest recurring billers in every market. They are experts at processing payments.”

The implications of this venture are enormous. For one thing, the move directly threatens the decades-old domination of Visa and MasterCard as the only credit/debit games in town. Discover, always a credit card laggard behind these two companies and American Express, could have much to gain.

Such a capability would finally bring the United States closer to Europe and Asia in terms of sophisticated smartphone usage. Contactless technology using smartphones to make store purchases is already available in the U.K. and Japan. Retailers would probably be only too happy to accept a new payment competitor, since they have fought with Visa and MasterCard over transaction fees for years.

While the new technology applies primarily to the store environment, it has an impact in the online world as well, since mobile payments without relying on credit cards could streamline e-commerce even further.

Reportedly, Visa and MasterCard are working on their own mobile payment systems. Some banks are also testing new technology. According to Bloomberg, Citigroup launched “MasterCard PayPass” stickers in June that, when affixed to the back of a mobile phone, can be used to make a contactless payment at some 230,000 U.S. merchants. Alternative payment solutions are also being offered by a number of start-ups, including Bling Nation, Boku, and Zong.

Payment systems are just one area that will change with the advent of ever more sophisticated smartphones. QR codes, which I’ve discussed in a previous post, are another. QR codes (they resemble a square barcode) embed information that camera-enabled smartphones can read with a “QR scanner” app. Magazine ads or window signs with QR codes can be scanned to receive promotional information.

For the upcoming Fall television season, for example, the Fox network is using “Fox Codes” in magazine ads to offer viewers access to Internet-based information about the network’s shows, including videos and cast interviews. CBS is reportedly using QR codes for some of its shows as well.

“Geo-triggered” applications are also in vogue. The Android and iPhone run such applications in the background and can alert users to a specific event. For example, DailyCandy, an email newsletter for women, just implemented “Stylish Alerts” as an Android app. When a consumer is near a current local event, such as a designer sale, the app can send an alert to the shopper’s phone. The service is only available in New York City for now, but will likely be expanded to other cities.

With today’s smartphones, we are finally witnessing the convergence of mobile communications with the Internet. From a marketing perspective, this puts an individual consumer within reach, just when that consumer is ready to shop and make a purchase. Major new opportunities for retailers and online marketers alike to connect with consumers will now be available. In fact, the smartphone of the future is just around the corner. Are you ready to take advantage of it?

About Barry Silverstein

Barry Silverstein is a freelance writer/marketing consultant. In addition to writing for ReveNews, he is a contributing writer to Brandchannel.com, the world’s leading online branding forum. He is the author of three marketing books, The Breakaway Brand (co-author, McGraw-Hill, 2005), Business-to-Business Internet Marketing (Maximum Press, 2003) and Internet Marketing for Technology Companies (Maximum Press, 2003). Barry ran his own Internet and direct marketing agency for twenty years. You can find Barry on Twitter @bdsilv.

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