We’ve all done it. You spend ages searching for the scissors or the sticky tape and suddenly there they are, right in front of you all along.
Something similar has happened to the mobile phone industry over the last couple of years. For a long time now we’ve been searching hard for the mobile internet revolution.
Our industry has built networks, launched services, created walled gardens, knocked them down again and innovated relentlessly to drive uptake of these new services.
It’s been a nervous time. When we set off, revenues from mobile internet services were pretty small.
Indeed, not everyone has lasted the course. Some mobile companies have tried to make a virtue out of not investing in this future trend, cutting corners on network investment and product development – a strategy which makes sense if you take a very short term view of where the industry is going.
Stop and take a look around the next time you are waiting for a train or a bus and you’ll see that quite without anyone noticing, the revolution has already happened.
You’ll see people glued to their phones. But they are no longer just texting – they are browsing, researching, tweeting, networking and more. They are living their “internet lives” through their mobiles.
Two things have driven this change. The first is simply that more of us have ‘internet lives’.
The number who have personal email accounts, who are registered on social networking sites like Facebook, who buy things online and who use the internet as a source of reviews, information and advice has exploded over the last few years.
The reason I use the phrase ‘internet lives’ is because the internet has become more than just a gigantic online information source.
A growing percentage of people now have friends they’ve never met – that they are only connected to through social networks. People with a hobby or interest will often find a discussion forum online that connects them with others with the same hobby all around the world.
More of us live an internet life alongside our conventional one. You can even take this to its literal extreme and get a Second Life.
The second driver of the mobile internet revolution is that mobile technology is catching up with and exploiting that social trend.
Smartphones are better and more powerful than they were a few years ago, with some amazing browsing experiences now available, and companies like Vodafone have invested heavily to make sure that their networks are engineered for fast and reliable browsing. You can now stay connected to your internet life wherever you are.
What I think is most fascinating about all of this is that when a consumer’s ‘internet life’ meets their ‘mobile life’ both of them change. Twitter tweets and Facebook updates are simply more interesting and more fun when they are live.
“Guess what I’m doing right now” from the mobile is more interesting than “guess what I did earlier today” from your home PC.
When you share news as it happens, when you can see your friends around you on a map and message them, when you take photos and share them instantly with your social network you are doing things that were impossible only a few years ago.
Your mobile wasn’t sophisticated enough then, and your home broadband connection wasn’t with you when you were away from home.
This is the amazing trend I believe we will see explode over the next few years. It’s not just the way we use mobiles that will change, but the way we use the internet itself. Instead of being a big repository of information that you “look things up on” it will become your personal network – a live link to your friends, resources and entertainment.
Consider the amazing growth in customers using (and paying for) the mobile internet that we’ve seen on the Vodafone network over the last year. The number of people using sites like Facebook through their Vodafone mobile each day has more than tripled over the last year, and the growth shows no sign of slowing.
That’s why I’m so excited about the first Vodafone 360 handset, the Vodafone 360 Samsung H1. Play with it, and you’ll find it’s not designed to bring the internet to you through your phone.
It’s designed to put you right in the centre of your friends, contacts and family and keep you connected to your personal network. Having your friends with their status updates and messages right on your mobile homepage is not just a clever user interface design. It makes you feel connected – part of your own personal mobile internet.
The mobile internet might have crept up on us, but it now gives us an opportunity to change our industry, our products and our customers’ lives forever. To do that, we’ll have to make big investments to ensure our networks are up to it.
We’ll have to embrace wonderful devices like the HTC Magic and the iPhone. We’ll have to continue to invent great connected services like Vodafone 360. But above all we’ll have to watch, listen and learn as our customers build the future for us.