10 Takeaways from Mobile Madness 2013: Ads, Games, M2M, and More

3/20/13Follow @gthuang

Before I even have time to thank everyone involved in yesterday’s Mobile Madness conference, I wanted to share some of the highlights that were etched in my brain.

Here are my top 10 quotes and takeaways from the day (it’s not comprehensive):

1. Jonathan Bush, CEO of Athenahealth: “We’re the best in healthcare, but we suck.” He was talking about mobile technology and its relative lack of effectiveness so far in health and medicine—a field that has huge challenges when it comes to data, silos, regulations, and inertia. Bush urged the mobile innovators in the room to “take a look at healthcare.” (This man could read the dictionary out loud and be entertaining.)

2. Mobile apps—a $15 billion industry, according to Apperian’s Chuck Goldman—are profoundly impacting supply chains, contracting, services, payments, customer engagement, and soon, healthcare. Still, what’s “good for consumers” could be “bad for society,” said Apptopia’s Eli Sapir.

3. There’s a lot of opportunity in connected devices, wearable sensors, and machine-to-machine (M2M) technology—but it’s all an offshoot of mobility, not necessarily where mobile is heading. And it will require new kinds of wireless infrastructure, though the devices themselves may be dealing in tiny data, not big data, said Highland’s Sean Dalton and Bolt’s Ben Einstein.

4. “20 years.” That was WiTricity’s Eric Giler, on how long until people don’t walk down the street staring at their phones—because mobility is all in their heads, or implanted in their bodies. Optimistic, no?

5. “This is the future,” said Gagan Puranik from the Verizon Innovation Center, when asked why Verizon is trying to form partnerships with software and hardware companies in areas like wearable computing, smart sensors, and M2M. It sounds like Verizon (and other carriers) wants to make use of its extensive infrastructure to position itself more favorably within the next wave of wireless.

6. Angus Davis from Swipely was a fount of colorful metaphors and straight talk. Eschewing the usual runway analogy, he likened a startup to skydiving—if you spend thousands of feet falling with a ripped parachute, that changes how you do the stitching in the last 500 feet (so fail fast). “One thing that we need more of in the entrepreneurial community is the willingness to call B.S. and have thicker skins,” he said. “At Swipely, we started the business to do one thing [social shopping] and it was wrong. It was a failure.” Things have turned around, he said, since the company found its business in payments and marketing analytics. One classic misstep: technology solutions in search of a problem. (See mobile payments and check-ins?)

7. Don’t count Microsoft out of the mobile platform wars. Dan Bricklin, of VisiCalc fame (and now mobile/tablet apps), and Charles River VC Izhar Armony both expressed a healthy respect for the software giant. But Armony also said Microsoft’s “DNA is always distribution versus products.” He added, “We’ve moved to an age where product wins, because the distribution channels have been kind of cleared and you can get anything directly to the consumer.”

8. Bricklin had some deep observations about what people will continue to pay for in terms of mobile services—things like communicating and sharing with friends and family. And if there was one general startup theme from the conference, it was that ideas and industries that seem simple, boring, or stupid at the beginning often end up winning in the end.

9. “The trend is there is no trend this year,” said Brian Wong from Kiip (who was born to entertain people at conferences). There is no clear-cut hot topic in gaming, he said, unlike years past when social games or casino games were all the rage. But it’s clear that “gaming is front and center,” said The Tap Lab’s Dave Bisceglia, and continues to drive much of the underlying technology, business models, and usage in mobile. The discussion focused on how to retain users, not just acquire them; Andrew Paradise from Lookout Gaming lamented that “all of the ways that people are doing monetization now actually attack retention.”

10. In terms of advertising, mobile is to the Web what the Web was to TV in the late 1990s, according to our mobile-ad panel. We’re seeing a real blurring of the line between mobile content and ads, said Jumptap’s George Bell, because “advertising can lead to action” in a direct way.

I thought the future of mobile advertising was an appropriate way to end the conference, in part because it showcased five Boston-area companies that are blazing new trails in a resurgent field. And because as mobile advertising goes, so will mobile.

Curt Woodward contributed reporting to this story.

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com. Follow @gthuang

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  • http://www.EatMedia.com David Cutler

    Thanks Greg! Jonathan Bush of Athenahealth also said that the billion dollar opportunity is empowering doctors to communicate better and buy without restrictions.