Mark Kirby - mobile, cloud, voice and IoT

Heroes of the mobile screen review

Yesterday I attended the Heroes of the Mobile Screen conference at the BFI Southbank. This was a conference with a focus on business and strategy within the mobile industry. Here are my thoughts on the day.

Teenage panel

The undisputed highlight of the day was the teenage dragons den panel organised by Julia Shalet of the Digital Youth Project. During this segment, various startups pitched their idea to a group of six teenagers aged 16 - 18 who gave them feedback and asked questions.

What was most interesting about this segment to me was not so much the fact that these were younger people, but that the stage was given to non-industry people. Listening to ‘normal’ people give their views on apps, how they use their phones and what they want from their services was a real eye-opener and its something the industry should be doing a lot more of. As one panel member stated, app’s and iphones are what ‘you lot’ (us, the audience) are interested in, not your average teenager (or I’d imagine your average person in general).

Points that surprised/interested me:

  • All of the teenagers on stage used their phones for texting, and in the case of the 2 Blackberry owners, online messaging, and very little else
  • Most of the teenagers were happy to have ‘simple phones’, ‘just a Nokia’ etc. One guy who did get a Blackberry said he preferred his N95 and wished he had just stuck with that
  • The teenagers were all keen on at least one of the mobile application ideas pitched to them - despite not having a phone that would be able to easily run those apps, nor really showing any strong keenness to upgrade

It would have been nice to hear some more general views on mobile from the panel, but there is plenty of research available at the mobileYouth site as introduced before the panel by Graham Brown.

As developers and startups, we shouldn’t assume we know what people want, and just develop for ourselves (i.e. fun iPhone and android apps, and business-like Blackberry apps). We could be missing out on a big alternative market.

Other interesting topics

Belinda Parmar from Ladygeek made some interesting points about marketing to women. Not over simplifying, not offering too much choice and not simply going for pink versions were among the points mentioned. Like the teenagers, this talk showed that there are plenty of markets we might not even realise we are missing, and each should be carefully considered.

Douglas Richards and a group of VC’s spoke in the morning about getting funding. The key point seemed to be that app’s don’t make money, services do. Money is also to be made in providing the backbone that these app’s and services run on.

Some constructive criticism

Firstly well done to the team for putting on the first conference of its kind, the day went smoothly and seemed to go without a hitch, even managing to stay on schedule, and providing a lunch and some decent food throughout the day.

As with any conference, it wasn’t all perfection however. Sadly one panel was full of people promoting their companies individual offerings, and failing to discuss the topic at hand. Another descended into a discussion about social networks when the topic promised was on context and the user experience. There was also a distinct lack of true ‘heroes of the mobile screen’, although whether that is a bad thing is up for debate - we don’t need an Oscars of mobile just yet!

My advice for improvements for next time would be:

  • Less pure business - a focus also on mobile design and user experience would produce more of a balance
  • Select energetic interesting speakers over those from a corporate background who are restricted in what they can say
  • Ensure those moderating the panels are able to do so properly - keeping the panellists focussed on the topic set
  • More full presentations - panels are often a bad idea, people can get dragged down rabbit holes and end up off topic. A solid presentation, by a published field expert, for at least 25 mins wins every time in my book. Think TED and dConstruct not SXSW.

Let’s see what the team comes up with next year!

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