Big Things In Store For U.S. Mobile TechnologyEven before I embarked on what was to be a three-year adventure in Asia, I\’d heard all about Japan\’s advanced mobile phones that left North American cellular service in the the dust. \”You can take pictures!\” \”You can send to people\’s emails!\” \”You can send pictures – and videos you took on your phone – to people\’s emails!\” All that sounds like a no-brainer today, but this was way back in 2002. I still remember my American friends\’ utter amazement when I\’d take photos of myself and instantly send them from my phone to their email addresses back in the good ole U.S. \”Wow! Send me another!\” was one friend\’s typical response.

Eventually, North America reached the point occupied back then by mobile pioneers like Japan and parts of Europe. Like those regions early this decade, many Americans these days have a camera-enabled cell phone – and use it for everything from MySpace profiles to witnessing crimes. Meanwhile SMS usage rates keep climbing; CTIA reported in June 2007 that there were 28.8 billion SMS messages sent every month, compared to 7.2 billion just two years ago.

Conventional wisdom dictates that the United States should look to regions in Europe and Asia to predict this country\’s SMS and other mobile technology – and thus forecast our own digital marketing trends. It is well known in the industry that U.S. mobile technology tends to be about 18 months behind Japan/Korea and about 8-12 months behind Europe. That\’s why I was excited seeing two news reports this week related to the Asian, European, and U.S. mobile industries.

First, consider BusinessWeek\’s story about Asian wireless interests looking to expand into the United States. Japanese and Korean cellular carriers are doing business with, or investing in, American providers. These Asian parties bring with them the expertise to provide mobile features that include high-speed data services as well as consumer-friendly stuff like movie-watching, buying food at vending machines, or using phones as passes for the train. \”We want to bring Japanese applications here,” said Toshiro Akiyama, director of marketing and business development for KDDI America.

Then there\’s ClickZ\’s piece about the U.K. tabloid The Sun going mobile by sending codes to subscribers that enable them to access news stories with their cell phones. That\’s one way digital marketing can boost the lagging news biz. More importantly, since the United Kingdom\’s mobile market is so far ahead of the United States\’, watching developments there is like gazing into a crystal ball.

Before I left for Japan (sparking a two-year stay there followed by a year in China) I didn\’t do anything on my mobile but make calls and play \”Brick Attack.\” Within a month of living in the Land of the Rising Sun, I was texting all my friends all the time – there and back home. I only used email during nights spent at the next-door Internet café, or when I could get to the community center computers that limited usage to an hour at a stretch – and so came to rely on text messaging as my main way to communicate. Even when I moved to China, where I had much more access to the Web, I still used texting to communicate domestically. (I think part of this was because many of my friends in both countries were from text-happy Europe.)

Upon my return to the United States, the SMS habit was firmly ingrained. Sure, mobile technology was still better in Asia than in the United States – where it took forever just to make sure SMS messages were compatible across all providers. But by my homecoming, U.S. mobility was close to where it was when I\’d first arrived in Japan. That was enough to keep me texting – despite many friends\’ initial resistance to the technology. I bullied many of them into using SMS more often, though, which brings me to my next point\”¦

I can all but guarantee that better technology + increased adoption among one\’s friends = one\’s increasingly heavier reliance on mobile phones. That\’s something digital marketers ought to consider, because once ingrained, the habit stays put: Just check out my tagline at the end of this post!

Eydie Cubarrubia
Marketing Communications Manager, mobileStorm
\”I\’d rather you text me\”