In the next decade, the convergence of connected devices, customer demand for ubiquitous connectivity, and pervasive digital content and applications will give rise to the connected world.
According to the Wireless Research Forum, the number of connected devices will reach 7 trillion by 2017. For brands, marketers, merchants and service providers, this new landscape offers unprecedented opportunities and significant challenges. There have never been so many ways to reach and engage consumers, and consumers have never had such an appetite for personalized media, sophisticated services and constant connectivity. They are willing to pay for it, too – either by transacting directly or granting advertisers their attention. But consumers' expectations will outpace the offerings of all but the most sophisticated players, many of whom must choose between allocating budget to mobile marketing, social media, online video or location-based services.
The number of screens per consumer continues to multiply and the platforms powering them are diversifying. Connected consumers are everywhere. The challenge is to present a consistent, relevant experience on their terms without continually investing in enabling technology at the expense of core product. Where these competing requirements intersect there is a demand for a connectivity and transaction hub to reduce friction for all parties and stimulate innovation.
Recent trends at developer conferences and consumer technology events indicate an accelerating pace of change. Today, the term "connected device" represents more than communication-oriented platforms such as mobile phones and tablets. Now televisions and even automobiles are falling under this umbrella. In this case, we're not talking about convergence for the sake of it, but sophisticated platforms for information and media delivery, interactive services and mobile commerce. We've reached the tipping point in terms of palatable hardware costs and near-ubiquitous connectivity, and those without a strategy for remaining relevant in this new ecosystem will quickly fall behind.
These new screens represent a larger audience multiplied by more opportunities to reach them, and the barriers to entry have never been lower. We can expect a host of new players to participate as well as the familiar names. Although public APIs and developer kits abound, typically they each address a single platform. Fragmentation is not only inevitable, but necessary in order to deliver a context-sensitive experience in the connected world. The reality is that some consumers will choose a Blackberry PlayBook, while others will have five Android devices of various form factors. One set of services will be consumed over service provider networks, while another leverages home DSL or municipal Wi-Fi. They will all command some mixture of real time two-way messaging and payments activity. The question is: How do you bring a service to market in this diverse environment?
Parties on both sides of the equation face this uncertainty. OEMs and service providers are far from tapping the true potential of their assets – text and multimedia messaging, push notifications, operator billing, location, and presence information to name a few – and are not equipped to rally behind a single API or motivated to contract with thousands of publishers and application developers. Conversely, publishers and application developers must choose between supporting every major platform or confronting an interminable process to add them one at a time, neither of which are good options. For the ecosystem to operate efficiently and optimize consumer experience, each party should focus on its core business and, where market inefficiencies emerge, there is often a business model waiting to be exploited. A hub can solve the business and technical challenges of bringing these players together.
A hub makes it possible to gain a foothold in the connected device ecosystem and creates a platform for innovation to flourish. This model can feature a cloud-based integration layer to rationalize the disparate protocols and connectivity options of various downstream parties, and a fast, secure settlement capability to power micropayments through multiple channels. A hub means one set of contracts to sign, one monthly revenue statement, and a partner motivated to reduce complexity and time to market on your behalf. A hub can deliver the most significant geographic and operator coverage, create a consistent experience across device platforms, and broaden the scenarios where the lowest friction payment mechanisms can be applied. Best of all, by being at the nexus of the varied requirements of many players, a hub can capture and spread best practices and success across disciplines to accelerate the entire system.
It is certainly possible to maintain a laser focus on product experience with a single platform, and indeed many successes have come from popular proprietary applications. Addressing the lowest common denominator with an SMS-based service is another common choice, and perfectly understandable given the size of the addressable market. But the connected world demands more: a user experience relevant not only on all mobile devices, but in the living room, car, or virtually any location. As the term "mobile" becomes increasingly redundant, marketers' creativity is released, and a hub becomes a key component in delivering on the promise of ubiquitous interaction and commerce in the connected world.
James Monaghan is director, Solutions Innovation & Consulting, at OpenMarket.