Xconomist of the Week: Mark Lowenstein on Mobile’s Next Waves

1/26/12Follow @xconomy

Mark Lowenstein has made some pretty bold statements about what’s going to happen in the wireless industry this year. More mergers and acquisitions among mobile operators. Same goes for the handset makers. Mobile payments won’t take off just yet. And enterprises may have jumped the gun on tablets.

Lowenstein, a Verizon Wireless veteran and now managing director of the Boston-area consultancy Mobile Ecosystem, dishes out insights like this via his regular e-mail newsletter on the mobile industry, but I wanted to dig in with him a bit more deeply on what these big changes mean for startups and other innovative companies working in Boston and beyond.

Plus, the Xconomy newsroom has been a bit buzzy with mobile news lately, after we just announced our fourth annual half-day forum on the subject, Mobile Madness 2012 on March 14.

Lowenstein, an Xconomist, pinpointed a couple of different facets of mobile technology that aren’t necessarily new, but that are maturing and hitting new stages. Read on for those, and some of the startups around the country that are driving these trends.

—Enterprise Mobility: Big companies have been scrambling to put a mobile face on their business, and startups have been sprouting up or changing their approach to support them. “It’s not just about mobile enabling what they’re already doing,” says Lowenstein. “It’s about how it can be an additional potential revenue stream for them.” In fact, just this morning Framingham, MA-based Staples, one of the world’s largest retailers, announced it would be setting up a new e-commerce innovation facility in Kendall Square, with mobile as a big focus.

Businesses that need to build consumer-facing, brand-specific applications will continue to turn to mobile strategy and consulting firms to do the heavy lifting.

And companies that have previously developed individual applications for enterprises are now starting to sell the tools that allow companies and brands themselves to move much of their activity to the mobile front. That includes Boston-area firms like Raizlabs, Apperian, Modo Labs, and most recently, Verivo Software (formerly known as Pyxis Mobile).

—The App Marketplace. Speaking of apps, enough is enough. It’s been about four years and around half a million apps since Apple introduced its iTunes app store. “It’s been terrific, but one gets the sense that it needs to get to the next and more mature stage,” says Lowenstein. Meaning, a majority of apps don’t have a company behind them, don’t get updated, and don’t really make money. “They’re a fad, a fly by night,” he says. Cambridge, MA-based Apptopia is working to remedy this with an online exchange enabling developers to unload their apps. And Boston-based Fiksu recently introduced a platform out to help mobile apps to generate more revenue. San Francisco’s Chomp aims to help consumers wade through the content with an app for discovering relevant apps.

—Advertising. Mobile advertising network providers have matured, with many startups having been acquired by much bigger players. “You can really see that we’re now onto the second phase of companies in the mobile advertising space,” says Lowenstein. Those new mobile advertising companies are focused on infrastructure for better delivering mobile ad content, like analytics and location optimization (technology provided by Boston’s Where, now part of PayPal), he says. Plus, bigger brands are starting to make mobile advertising a more “meaningful” part of their ad budgets, he says. “It’s where we were with Internet advertising eight to 10 years ago.” (Some tech companies to watch in this area are Nexage, Jumptap, Locately, and Mobile Intelligence Solutions.)

—Content delivery. What else are big shots turning to mobile for? Major video content delivery. Sports in particular. Networks are working to secure the mobile rights for NFL and NCAA content, says Lowenstein. Companies focused on optimizing video content delivery will be busier on this front, he says. Makes sense, given Cambridge, MA-based Akamai’s (NASDAQ: AKAM) recent acquisition of Cotendo, a West Coast competitor that has a strong mobile content delivery focus. And Portland, OR-based Elemental Technologies is a player to watch on the video processing front. One of Lowenstein’s 2012 predictions was that this rich mobile content could come at premium prices for consumers, so we’ll have to keep an eye on that.

—Voice Controls. We’ve talked before about the impact that Apple’s Siri has had on voice-to-text software companies in Boston and beyond. (One example: Vlingo being acquired by Nuance Communications so the two can compete with other giants in mobile voice-assisted technology). But don’t expect that to stay confined to cell phones. More consumer devices, like tablets and TVs sitting in your living room, will be adding voice-enabled features. “That can only bode well for the expertise and the companies that are involved in that,” Lowenstein says.

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