Now more than ever, we have the ability to access virtually any information we desire, at any time and at any place (provided we have a signal) thanks to the revolution of the modern smartphone. Although “smartphones” have technically been around for longer, it was only a little under a decade ago that we saw the introduction of iPhones and Android devices such as the HTC Dream which, after numerous model variations, have taken the global mobile market by storm, penetrating over a billion adopters in just 5 short years, the shortest amount of time recorded for the mainstream uptake of a new device.

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In such a short space of time, the world as we know it has changed thanks to smartphones and can be seen to improve our lives in almost every way in terms of convenience. Before smartphones became mainstream the same functions performed by them today were performed by a much larger number of separate devices. First take a look at your iOS or Android device for a moment. Don’t even touch it. The first thing you see is a mobile phone. Many of us may remember either owning one of these or seeing your parents own something similar to these as a kid: It was just a small, wireless phone that took and received calls, text messages and possibly some other basic features. Before unlocking your phone, not much has changed. Mobile phones always showed the time, how much signal you have and battery left, nothing seems fundamentally different yet.

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The moment you unlock your phone however, everything changes.

You have a touch interface, and with the majority of smartphones, you can likely count the number of physical buttons on on hand. If anyone remembers trying to do anything except text and make calls on ‘dumb phones’ you probably remember it being very cumbersome. Even texting was a nightmare, requiring either extensive key pressing just to get the right letter or resort to the classic equivalent of auto correct (which was even more prone to the incorrect usage of words than modern auto correct).

Nowadays navigating a smartphone is a snap, you literally tap what you want and it gives you the app almost instantly. Any app that spends time loading you’re likely frustrated at. Because smartphones are so instant, and are in our pockets, you have access to any of these apps within seconds. Take a few minutes to think about every app on your phone, even just on the first page, and think about how, before you had a smartphone, you would have had to access the content of said app? Modern smartphones replace a lot more devices than you initially realise. Off the top of my head smartphones replace the iPod, or if you weren’t so fortunate like myself, the portable cassette player, the digital camera, the calculator, even the Gameboy. You don’t have to use a computer to check your emails, you don’t have to use a clunky webcam for video chats, you can easily look up anything you want on the internet without having to be at a desk by a computer, you can even buy appliances and order food without having to go to a physical shop anymore.

So this is all very convenient. We have instant access to pretty much anything we want, at anytime and anyplace. From a consumer standpoint, this feels like a new blessing. There are so many things in our daily lives that have become so much simpler: we can receive any information we want in an instant. So how can this be a bad thing?

Although it has technically been available in our smartphones for a while now, the most recent feature being taken advantage of in smartphones right now is the internal GPS. No longer being used simply for live navigation, the locational services on a smartphone are being used for both our own and businesses’ benefits. With this, Kaplan (2012) outlined four different types of social media applications based on two dimensions: “Location-sensitivity” and “Time-sensitivity” as shown in the table extract below.

Kaplan Table 2Those applications which do not require GPS functionality  (the Quick and Slow timers) are the more traditional types of web content we have been used to on desktop computers, usually just ported over to the mobile platform such as the given examples of Youtube and Wikipedia. These two have had a user interface change to better suit a mobile screen, however function pretty much the same way as their normal counterparts. Those that do (the Space timers and locators) are the ones that take advantage of the additional functionality locational services brings to the application.

There are a rising number of businesses that are using these locational services, provided by social media apps such as FaceBook to market to consumers more than ever. This can be seen as a good thing. Many nearby restaurant locations may pop up around lunch and dinner times. Whenever you google a venue now, the first link to pop up typically has directions and links to menus and prices of the food available right at the click of the button. FaceBook tells you when your friends are attending an event near you, and reminds you of special events you have marked as “attending” (to let others know where you will be). This represents a drastic change in how marketers are now able to tap into consumers’ lives and gain their attention. We have instant access to the information we desire, so do marketers, as they too can now know who is coming to their events, and know as much information about you as you publicly give.

Any business now has the ability to discover where their customers or potential customers are at any point in time. Whilst this can be beneficial to the consumer in displaying relevant advertisements there are issues concerning privacy. Do you feel it’s potentially wrong that marketers are able to know where you are every moment of the day, knowing how long you spent where, what stores you entered, what you bought, what you do and don’t like, political or religious views, spending habits, and so forth? Or do you feel that this information is harmless and simply represents how the world is changing as you can still opt out of these locational services, thus is still the consumer’s choice as to what marketers know about them? After all if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to worry about… right?

Let me know how you feel about this issue in the comments below!

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References: Kaplan, Andreas M. (2012). “If you love something, let it go mobile: Mobile marketing and mobile social media 4×4. Business Horizons, Vol. 55(2), 129-139

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