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August 5, 2008

iPhone as a Game Changer: Games, Rules & How Things are Being Played

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Editor’s Note: Day two of our Guest Blogging week begins with Cindy Krum, who takes us for a walk on the mobile marketing side. –Susan

Everybody is talking about how the iPhone is changing the game for mobile marketing, and that might be true, but I don’t know. A good friend* once told me that “games have rules, so everyone knows when they are being played.” -a nice double entendre that begs the question, “is the mobile game really changing, or am I just being played?” With all the hype surrounding the launch of the 3G iPhone, it’s kinda hard to tell.

I personally give less credit to the phone itself, and more credit to the true-web-browsing and the 3G connection, neither of which are completely unique to the iPhone. I have to admit that true-web-browsing over a 3G connection is cool, and it definitely changes the game, but what, specifically, about the iPhone makes it a game changer? This post will take a quick look at the rules to the old mobile game, the rules to the new mobile game, and how things are being played.

Game Rules: Previous to the launch of the iPhone there were a couple of phones and mobile browsers that touted a ‘true-web-browsing’ experience, but most mobile browsing was still slow and clunky. With the old rules, most handsets presented a limited version of the web that used WAP or limited HTML.

In the old game, the experience was predominantly text based, and when images or designs came through, they were frequently garbled and confusing. JavaScript sub-menus would render in full (or wouldn’t render at all), online forms didn’t always work, and pages with multiple columns would stack, rather than display side by side. Mobile web browsing was cumbersome, slow and interactivity was relegated to what we could do with a simple scroll button, touch screen or arrow buttons.

New Game Rules: With the release of the iPhone, and other phones with a ‘true-web-browsing’ experience, some rules have definitely changed. On most of these new phones, JavaScript and AJAX usually work, forms can almost always be filled in and submitted, and columns are displayed side-by-side, as directed by the HTML and CSS. Images and other design elements render as we would expect them to on our traditional computers. In general, it is a much more predictable, familiar experience.

The thing about the iPhone that really changes the game is less related to regular, every-day browsing and more related to advertising and downloadable applications. New ads and applications are being developed for the iPhone that leverage motion sensors (accelerometers) as well as sound, video and vibrate functions native in the iPhone. These applications are sure to create a new level of interactivity that marketers rarely have seen.

When third party applications like the iSaber, (turns your iPhone into a light saber from Star Wars, complete with cool sound effects) and Five Dice, (allows you to play Yahtzee by shaking your iPhone to roll the Yahtzee dice) are monetized or used for branding it will be very powerful. (My personal favorite is Sketches, which is an art program that allows you to draw with your fingers and erase your work by shaking the phone like an Etch-a-Sketch!) If used correctly, this kind of interactivity can do a lot to create brand awareness, and loyalty.

How Things are Being Played: AT&T reported that the average iPhone’s data usage was three times higher than other smart phones, so the game has definitely been changed. Location based search, and bar-code scanning are certainly game changes for us marketers, but it has yet to be seen how these types of applications will be accepted.

The iPhone certainly has a lot of cool features, but is also missing some big ones, and no one seems to have noticed. iPhones don’t offer picture messaging (MMS) or video recording and they don’t render Flash. (But what about all the hot-shot web designers who have simultaneously dedicated their lives to Apple AND Flash?) iPhones also don’t come with the capability to record a voice note, or use an instant messenger program. It appears that the new phone functionality has traded off with some old functionality that some of us had gotten used to.

3G downloading is great, when it works, but exactly when is that? AT&T is a bit unclear about their 3G coverage, but it appears that if you are not in a major metropolitan area you will probably still be accessing the web via a slower EDGE network.

New Game -*Bonus Round*: In my mind, we still need to find some middle ground between the new rules and the old rules. Zooming in and out and scrolling side to side is a problem for me, and it would be nice if Flash worked too. Perhaps it might be good if we move towards web development standards and browser rendering standards that allow traditional browsers to render a site one way, and mobile browsers to render the same site another way, without any additional effort on our part.

So maybe it doesn’t matter if the iPhone gets the credit for the change or not. And perhaps the era of cumbersome mobile browsing has come to an end, and the game has definitely changed, but I am sure it is not done changing. The true-web-browsing experience is good, but still has a long way to go to be as good of a as browsing the web on your computer.

*Profound quote thanks to Jim Hedger, at around 2am, somewhere in NYC after SearchBash. :)

Cindy Krum is the Director of New Media Strategies for Blue Moon Works, Inc. She brings fresh and creative ideas to the Blue Moon Works team, speaking at national and international trade events about mobile web marketing, social network marketing and international SEO. Cindy also writes for industry publications, and has been published in Website Magazine, Advertising & Marketing Review, Search Engine Land, ODG Intelligence, and quoted by many respected publications including PC World, Internet Retailer, TechWorld, Direct Magazine and Search Marketing Standard.

Cindy also currently serves as the co-chair of the SEMPO Emerging Technologies Mobile Web Task Force, and is an active member of the search community. Cindy is passionate about bringing creative online marketing solutions to clients, and working with clients to develop high level mobile and international marketing strategies.

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