Consumers must stay in charge as mobile conquers all
A view from Gideon Spanier

Consumers must stay in charge as mobile conquers all

Smartphone technology has become so sophisticated since Apple's iPhone launch that it is hard to drive further innovation.

It was telling that the revival of a 17-year-old phone generated more buzz than new handsets at Mobile World Congress.

HMD Global, which has the rights to the ailing Nokia brand, said – somewhat implausibly – that the "colourful reimagining" of the Nokia 3310, complete with the classic Snake game, was prompted by consumer demand. 

But it does point to a wider truth. Smartphone technology has become so sophisticated since Apple’s iPhone launch a decade ago that it is hard to drive further innovation – at least for now.

In the halls of MWC, the talk was about the explosion of smart devices in the home and in cars, making use of artificial intelligence and giving more control to consumers. These trends matter to marketers because brands are no longer just thinking mobile first. Mobile is "the nexus of everything", as Lisa Donohue, global president of Starcom, puts it.

The proliferation of smart devices is not new. What is significant is that the tech, and how we control it, is being refined. Speeds will also get faster with 5G.

O2 owner Telefónica unveiled an operating platform, Aura, that uses voice recognition and AI to help consumers control their connected devices, manage costs transparently and "enrich" their lives. For example, Telefónica can collect mobile data on how much you travel by car so that you can choose, if you wish, to share that information with an insurance company to obtain cheaper rates.

Giving control to consumers was a major theme at MWC, and that includes their consumption of advertising. The phone networks have steered away from blanket ad-blocking but the technology exists, and users who hate being tracked by advertisers and are conditioned to ad-free environments such as Netflix want fewer ads.

That is why O2 says it is considering giving "more control" to customers so they can choose to reduce the number of ads they see. "If the customer’s keen, why wouldn’t we, if we have the capability to help them?" Mark Evans, chief executive of O2, says.

Ultimately, mobile is changing how we consume media. The small screen has many constraints as a creative canvas. But as a device to control things, the possibilities are endless. Look at voice control, which was big at MWC. It could fundamentally alter how we interact with a brand if the experience becomes less visual.

As AI technology becomes more powerful, it’s important the consumer stays in charge.

Gideon Spanier is head of media at Campaign.