The Future of Your Cell Phone

Cell phones express individuality. Consider the growth of ring tones, those tiny song recordings programmed into millions of cell phones around the world. They were first popularized by tech-savvy teens in the late 1990s who replaced the standard ring with a few bars from a favorite tune. Mobile phone companies began selling ring tones as a marketing gimmick and were so successful that sales jumped 40 percent in 2004 to $3.5 billion. That is roughly equivalent to 10 percent of the $32.2 billion global music market. Give that marketing initiative some thought!

If you think the industry’s sights are just on facilitating jingles and chatter, think again. The cell phone’s journey into our daily lives has barely begun. The speed of innovation is changing this little device from a talk box to an innovative workhorse. Take the camera phone for example. Introduced five years ago in Japan, some 57 million camera phones were sold by 2003, with expected sales of 338 million by 2008.

But that is only the beginning. It is not about taking pictures of the kids, that’s obvious. The industry is just starting to show the stuff cell phones can do and if you’re a savvy entrepreneur, it is an innovator’s dream. For a culture that increasingly wants to know it now, consider these innovations that made the recent Trendwatchers.com newsletter:

  • Consumers who hear an unknown song while hanging out in the bar, listening to the radio or sitting in a restaurant, only need call 2580, point their phone to the music source, and London-based Shazam will then send a text message reply with the name of the artist and the track. Besides the technology enabling song recognition, Shazam has built a database with 2.2 million tracks (adding 5,000 songs per week). Users are charged $ .95 for each tag and can buy the CD directly from Amazon. In the US, similar “waveform fingerprint” technology has been developed by Gracenote with a database of over 7 million songs. When you need to know it now, the cell phone can make it happen.
  • Another ‘text-and-know’ service comes from the world of real estate. For Sale signs assigned with a unique code allow passers-by interested in a property to text in the code and receive instant detailed listing information—including the agent’s phone number—on their cell phones. Sure beats sorting through the real estate guides.
  • Cell phone giant Nokia has been developing phones that can read radio frequency identification tags (RFID) that will soon render the bar code obsolete. (Wal-Mart has already served notice to its top 100 suppliers to be RFID compliant by the end of the year.) By pointing a cell phone at any product RFID tag, consumers can view all the information on the item—and no doubt, who’s got the lowest price—and have it delivered straight away.
  • To further push pull advertising, hyper tag-enabled billboards will allow consumers to point their phones at advertising signs and within seconds download additional information to their cell phones. Proctor & Gamble, HP, Ninetendo and United International Pictures are just a few of the early adopters. Moviegoers, for example can point and download music, trailers or stills from the movie, buy tickets or call the box office. Advertising that is requested, not shoved down consumer’s throats, will have great appeal.

So what relevance does this have to the print industry? It is not cell phone innovation as much as the ability to see new ways to deliver information. We are in the information business and words on paper have been our focus. We’ve learned to deliver it faster, better and cheaper but it is still a cumbersome process.

For over a century the telephone was seen as a device to convey the spoken word. Technology has innovated the device for a broader role. When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change. How do you see the mechanical devices you touch each day. Is there an innovation waiting to happen?

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