The Mobile Revolution: What’s the Message?

Article of the month

Helsinki, 1 June, 2005 — The Mobile Revolution: What’s the Message?

"We’re moving away from the business of ears to the business of eyes.”

Move over Bill Gates, stand aside Steve Jobs, said the industry pundits after CeBIT 1998, the famous trade conference. They’d just seen Nokia’s Communicator 9110, a mobile phone with dazzling capabilities, but what really intrigued them was that unforgettable line by Anssi Vanjoki, Nokia’s legendary brand chief.

Two to three years later, we met and talked about the coming revolution in mobile services. I was intrigued by the vision, but even more by the way. How are we moving from ears to eyes?

That’s how The Mobile Revolution began.

Global Headache

As I was researching the book, I nicknamed it “The Great Software Monster”, as Nokia’s struggling executives once termed the GSM project. A fascinating subject, that as it turned out required a lot of work. I have written most of the book in downtown Manhattan, Shanghai and Pudong, London’s City, Helsinki, and Hong Kong.

Like God, writing a book works in mysterious ways. In the process, I got familiar with the differences of the time zones, wrote and re-wrote the book three times, had to re-edit a third of the material out due to the lack of space, must have consumed tons of cappuccino, and had to deploy and subscribe to several Wi-FIs in various Starbucks worldwide.

Initially, I thought I would write a book with a couple of interviews but over time I was so intrigued by the vision and boldness of these ‘masters of the mobile universe’ and the making of mobile services worldwide that the book mushroomed into its present form, where I am now deeply indebted to some 80 senior executives worldwide who have taken the time and effort to collaborate in the completion of this project.

The experiences of the world’s leading mobile pioneers – vendors, operators, Hollywood studios, media companies, music publishers and record companies, marketers and advertisers, as well as global brands – are not just important, but certainly make a fascinating story.

Despite the difference of countries, business segments and personalities, there is a common denominator to these interviews.

New Technologies + New Markets = Industry Leadership

When companies have been successful in technology development but failed in market pioneering, new technologies have led to new products, processes and services, but these have failed to create new markets. The WAP debacle is a textbook example.

At the end of the 1990s, the leading European mobile vendors and operators developed Wireless Application Protocol as an open international standard for applications using wireless communication. Despite great R&D and investment, it was essentially branded technology rather than branded services. In saturated markets driven by sophisticated consumers, such creations are doomed.

Conversely, when companies have been successful in market development but failed in technology development, old offerings have been provided for new and changing markets. Unwilling to cannibalize its successful products and services, Motorola, in the early 1990s, delayed digital transition so long that it fell behind rivals and had to spend years in a futile catch-up.

Today, Europe’s leading mobile vendors and operators, as well as Motorola know better.

During the past century, the mobile industry has gone through successive waves of innovation. Technology has not made markets. It is the interplay of technology and marketing that has resulted in new products, processes and services. However, mobile services are a relatively recent phenomenon – and the subject of the book.

From Technology Innovation to Marketing Innovation

According to conventional industry wisdom, successive waves of innovation are triggered with emerging technologies. In this scenario, markets are only an afterthought, and services are identified with products, as if the two were identical (which they certainly are not).

Instead of technologies and products, it is time also to spotlight markets and services, and to give credit where it is due. If we truly want to understand the transition from the ears to the eyes, we must understand better the shift from technology innovation to marketing innovation.

Technology-based S-curves can be depicted individually and separately, in terms of time and performance capabilities. However, markets and services must be understood in terms of penetration and usage. Technologies make markets possible; product and service competition can make or break markets.

As trivial as all of this may sound, the simple idea is still downplayed in technology-intensive industries, and often with costly consequences. The history of mobility, like the evolutionary trajectories of so many other industries, is littered by failures when companies got right only one side of the equation.

From the late 19th century to the present, mobile leaders have not been companies that have excelled in technology innovation alone. Rather, the winners have excelled in technology innovation and marketing innovation.

Dan Steinbock

Dr. Dan Steinbock is an expert on marketing innovation in mobility having consulted for international organizations (OECD, EC) and multinationals (Ericsson, Intel, Nokia).

On The Mobile Revolution, see

Previously published Articles of the Month:

2002-09 School in the Grips of Change - Media Education in Finland

2002-10 Finns Work for e-Accessibility

2002-11 The Finnish Model of Information Society

2002-12 ”Silicon Valley is more than a place, its a state of mind”

2003-01 Data Security Challenges

2003-02 Lifelong Education in Upper Secondary Distance Learning Schools and Virtual Networks

2003-03 Finnish Lapland - More than Meets the Eye

2003-04 A Renewed Policy to Promote Innovation

2003-05 ICT Standardization in Europe and Globally – CEN/ISSS’s Role

2003-06 Public-Private-Partnership Works Well in Finland

2003-07 Information Technology in Nicaragua - Finland Offers a Helping Hand

2003-08 Victory Development Partnership Project - Personal and Virtual Rehabilitation for IT Employment

2003-09 Young People and Wireless Future

2003-10 Video Message Transmits Sign Language

2003-11 Combatting Spam Requires Global Co-Operation

2003-12 Saving the Earth from Anarchy by Eliminating the Weakest Link

2004-01-01 Information Society Models and the New Everyday Life

2004-02-01 Quo vadis, Finnish Virtual University?

2004-03-01 The Finnish Virtual University: Connections with the Bologna Process?

2004-04-01 "Look What I Say" - Unique Solution Enables Face-to-Face Communication for Speech Impaired

2004-05-01 Changes to Copyright Law Heavily Debated

2004-06-01 Finnish and Italian Technology in the Global Environment of the European Union: a Comparison of ICT Strategies in Education

2004-07-01 A New Law Designed to Improve Data Protection in Electronic Communications

2004-08-01 The Etno.Net Website for Practicing and Aspiring Folk Musicians Includes Recordings and Learning Material Packages

2004-09-01 Status of Wireless Service Business Today

2004-10-01 People Over Fifty in Finland as Users of Internet

2004-11-01 Preparing for Mobile Phone Viruses

2004-12-01 Distributed and Virtual Learning in Finland

2005-01-01 Online Public Services for the Benefit of Citizens

2005-02-01 Public-Private Partnership in Developing Information Society Skills

2005-03-01 Finland Shows Example in Localization

2005-04-01 The Individuals´ Awareness of the Right to Privacy

2005-05-01 Children and the Internet – Towards a Balanced Concern

More information