In the Japanese automotive industry, they consider the mobile phone to be their strongest competitor. While it is a completely different product, young men who used to pay a premium for a prestige vehicle are now spending more of their budget on mobile devices. In effect, the phone has replaced the car as the object of esteem and a symbol of freedom, whereas the car is losing significance. It is a utile appliance.
As such, those in the mobile industry look to the Japanese market as the field laboratory. There remains the deeply rooted belief that Japan is an exotic market, whose idiosyncratic consumers behave in ways that have little relevance to the rest of the world. While not all of the trends and preferences of the Japanese market have found an appeal, many have. As such, it offers valuable hints for successful applications and business models for mobile.
One important principle is that, to be successful in leveraging mobile, companies must put the user needs first and stifle the urge to shoot for quick returns. This is generally the difference between mobile businesses that succeed and fail in the Japanese market: those concerned with the capabilities of the device are passing fads; those that serve the needs of the user have widespread appeal and considerable longevity.
At the time this book is being written, the world economy is in significant crisis - but even within this context, there has been significant growth in mobile technology. This is contrary to the notion that the mobile device is a mere "gadget" on which to waste surplus income, but a device regarded by its users as a necessity.
Granted, the mobile device is still largely a communication device, with voice and messaging being the primary applications that users employ. There is considerable excitement in the computing capabilities of the device, which has also found some value to users, as evidenced by the huge success fo "Apps" for the iPhone and other devices, and the high adoption rate of "smart" phones that have greater capabilities than merely voice and text messaging.
And yet, companies that develop computing application devices still have yet to get it quite right. The most popular categories for mobile applications are games, gadgets, and diversions - which follows much the same pattern as desktop computing, whose first use by consumers was as a mere entertainment device that offered little other value. This, too, is changing, albeit slowly, as more useful productivity applications are being developed and adopted.
The author also concedes that writing a book about mobile is a difficult proposition: changes in the industry are rapid and there is a risk of the book becoming out of date quickly. However, this largely impacts the specific details, examples, and case studies. The fundamental principles, it is expected, will have greater longevity and, per the title, are expected to remain immutable over a longer period of time.
Currently, more than half the world's population owns a mobile phone, and given the adoption rate, we will soon arrive at a point where mobile phones have become ubiquitous and digital devices become indispensable. The International Telecommunications Union showed that there are four times more mobile phone subscribers than Internet subscribers, and the devices outnumber personal computers by 3 to 1. No other technology has reached a similar diffusion level in such a short period of time.
(EN: A counterpoint is that these figures are often exaggerated by assuming that subscribes and users are one in the same. A 2009 poll found that the average user has 1.8 devices - people have a personal device and a work device, and some carry up to four devices. So while the mobile adoption rates are impressive, the number of subscribers is roughly double the number of actual users.)
Another comparison is the global cell phone market generated more revenue than did the retail petroleum industry in 2007, signifying the average person was paying more for cellular service than they were for gasoline. It is clearly not a marginal interest that can be easily dismissed as a fad, and merits serious attention.
Much of the developing world has missed out on the Internet: the high cost of the PC and that of establishing an infrastructure of cables has prevented much of the third-world from adopting. However, mobile has been readily adopted, as both device and infrastructure are (relatively) cheap. It is likely the emerging markets will begin as wireless-centric.
(EN: Another author called this "leapfrogging" - remote villages may not have electricity, running water, television, internet, or even access to a newspaper - but they find themselves suddenly digital, having "skipped" all the technologies in-between.)
The device itself has also become complex in a short amount of time: it is a telephone, a camera, a house key, a security pass, a credit card, a game machine, a music player, an internet browser, an alarm clock, a scheduling tool, and address book, and a myriad of other things that people in the remote areas of the world may never have previously seen - and to which they suddenly have access.
Focus on Japan
This book focuses on the mobile platform - its history, present, and possible future. More specifically, the authors intend to consider the drivers that are powering the evolution of the device and the impact it has on the lives of the consumer.
More specifically still, the authors focus on the use of mobile devices in the Japanese market, where there are 100 million subscribers in a nation of slightly over 127 million, giving it 70% market penetration (EN: see earlier note regarding the exaggeration of these numbers.), more than in any other nation.
It's noted that the global attention has largely shifted away from Japan to more populous markets with lower adoption rates, such as the United States and Europe, as the represent greater opportunity for growth. While this makes financial sense, it overlooks the opportunity to gain insight that will be valuable as those markets become more saturated as well.
Focus on the End-User
The authors also choose to focus on the end-user as the driver of change in the marketplace. What companies want to achieve from a commercial perspective, and what developers want to provide from a technology perspective, are both subordinate to what the consumer actually wants from his device.
A fascination with the potential of technology has fueled considerable development of applications and capabilities - competing to offer a phone that has innumerable features that the customer does not want, need, or use. The author trots out the hackneyed metaphor of the Swiss Army knife with hundreds of little blades that do perfectly useless things.
Ultimately, the value of a mobile phone isn't the number of cool and quirky features it delivers to the user, but how the devices provide actual value to the consumer in a manner that is simple to use.