Barney Loehnis
Mobility the great democratizer
Mobility the great democratizer


In pursuing the smaller detail we can often miss the bigger picture and so it seems as brands and agencies gear up to face the mobile revolution. They understand it is important, but they mistakenly implement mobile tactics that masquerade as strategies and they fail to see the transformational opportunity that mobility offers businesses and consumers.

The answer to Mobile’s potential is nothing to do with devices and phones or mobile media; it has little to do with Android or iOS; is only partially related to location; and has very little to do with Apple or Samsung.

In fact Mobile is all about people; it is all about the empowered consumer with the ability to control the world around them, unconstrained by physical terminals and locations.

More importantly it is about the transformative impact of mobility to democratize education & training; deliver healthcare to every corner of the planet; and improve access to utilities and government services. From a business perspective mobile offers the potential to extend services and transactions into the palms of consumers, 24/7.

Mobility is the greatest democratic device since language evolved. In today’s digital world access to information is equal to power; access to a device that enables a transaction and interaction is equal to a vote.

As the prices of mobile devices, from “phones” to tablets decrease, the greater the potential for “mobile” to transform society. Datawind launched a tablet called Aakash in India which costs about $45 to make. Combine affordable and usable technology with the vision of men like Sugata Mitra – winner of the 2013 TED prize for his idea “school in the cloud” – and I cannot help but believe we are in the midst of the perfect mobile storm.

Sugata Mitra’s experiment “hole in the wall” demonstrated that if given access to hardware and connectivity, children from a slum could self-educate themselves to use computers, the language to program them and fully navigate the internet. In other words, children could get access to world’s best learning resources – books, lectures, courses – from any point on earth.

Imagine the role that brands could play to help accelerate this potential in developing markets. Will brands see opportunity to help facilitate such a bold vision? Or can they imagine how to empower their own workforce through access to information on the go?

In Karamay, a mid sized city of 400,000 in Xinjiang province in western China, local Government is working with China Mobile’s “Wireless City” and IBM’s “Smarter Planet” initiatives to integrate the city’s healthcare, transport and commercial systems. The city uses a mix of 2G, 3G and Wi-Fi to establish connectivity, and have deployed a series of services to help develop the economy.

People can look at transport timetables and see real-time traffic updates useful to minimize the amount of time spent standing at the bus stop in -20 C temperatures; schoolchildren can borrow books from the library with a swipe of their phone.

Elsewhere in Xinjiang cotton farmers use the same network to access sensors in the soil so that they can regulate the automated irrigation, optimisng not only their physical efforts of travelling across their huge farms, but also optimizing the use scarce water resources. In all 800,000 farmers across rural Xinjiang are connected to the rural information network.

We need to remind ourselves that in addressing the mobile opportunity we need to think way beyond devices, apps and media. What we are fundamentally addressing is a consumer unbounded by location and means – a consumer empowered by the ability to control information and content from their palm, the ability to transact at any moment, and the ability to respond socially to every interaction.

The real power of mobile is that it brings the world to me; and takes me to the world. If a farmer in the arid desert of the Taklimakan can learn to use the transformational power to optimse the value of a fine pair of melons, surely brands and businesses in more fertile ground can too?

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