A special feature of Mobile West Africa 2014, the tech conference we covered in Lagos, was the workshop and keynote of Tomi Ahonen, widely recognised a top mobile thinker and strategist. I’m always a bit suspicious of these titles of expert and the likes, but I must acknowledge Tomi has delivered an amazing vision on the future of mobile technologies, in addition to being someone it’s super easy to talk to (and a great showman).

tomi ahonen matthew dawes and tomi davies at mobile west africa 2014 lagos nigeria innovation is everywhere


Tomi Ahonen (mobile expert), Tomi Davies (VC in Nigeria) and Matthew Dawes (organizer of MWA)

Beyond the figures and “flat data” that makes clear we are in a mobile-first, when not mobile-only world, Tomi’s added value is clearly to give insights on our behaviour, to help us read a complex and fast-moving industry, and to give the keys to make our own path within these industries.

The mobile moment is now, and there still are lots of opportunities for disruption

There are more phones than people on the planet, and some countries like Hong Kong boast 200% penetration. We could add it’s even truer in emerging countries. Panama has 202.5%, Saudi Arabia 169.5%, Russia 155%, Brazil 136%… Comparatively, the US have “only” 103% mobile penetration and Japan 95% (Wikipedia).


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What’s more interesting here is the sheer number of industries that mobile can still, and will, disrupt. Tomi Ahonen shows how some of them have already transitioned to mobile, such as cameras, where all the main camera makers have given up in the meantime, from Kodak to Minolta. Comparatively, gaming is “only” 45% on mobile, so there’s a lot of room for innovation, not even talking of banking, F&B, retail or healthcare industries.

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In the advertising industry, for instance, mobile marketing is both a more efficient and measurable way to take products to the market. This case study from OMO in South Africa is amazing. With incentives ranging from education material and clothes for the kids and airtime for parents, OMO was able to get a lot of opt-ins in their database, increase the repurchase rate by 60% and reach about 20% of all South African households

A lot of startups are also trying to get mobile payments popular, but disruption can also come from bigger brands. Coca-Cola has made a viable and popular mobile payment system in South Korea with “Play”, a concept which rewards users with points when they purchase Coke, and when they achieve specific missions, like a scavenger game or a dance. Points can be redeemed both in Coke products and in smartphone in-app purchases and songs. About 1M South Koreans played the game, and Coca-Cola now has quite an expertise on payments on mobile.

A last case study with market research and airlines. Finnair began to use mobile check-ins back in 2001, and by 2010, half of its customers were checking-in via mobile. The data gathered on such a long time allowed the app used by Finnair to offer instant upgrades on Business when people checked-in in Economy (airlines make their money on Business and First, not on Economy). As much as 23% costumers took the upgrade, paying with either Miles or Credit card.

Behavior on mobile: do make a difference between mobile phones and tablets

These case studies get reinforced by an amazing behaviour understanding of mobile by Tomi Ahonen. First, because we now have a good check-list of what are the unique added values of mobile technologies. Any startup of project should take a few minutes to think how each feature is used. If it’s not, then, chances are someone more mobile-friendly will take your place :

  1. Mobile is first personal mass medium
  2. Permanently Connected
  3. Always Carried
  4. Built-in Payment Channel
  5. Available at Creative Impulse
  6. Has Most Accurate Audience Info
  7. Captures Social Context of Consumption
  8. Enables Augmented Reality
  9. Offers Digital Interface (to real world)

Another insight provided in the session was the key difference between mobile and tablets. Mobiles are something you use all time, for 30 seconds’ tasks, with one hand, managing a lot of things with the other (eating, paying, etc). “Tablets immobilise people”, says Tomi, because you need to stop, use your two hands. I can perfectly remember the number of times I missed my train or transfer when using my iPad, as you’re more immersed in it, for tasks that take on average 3 minutes.

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Again, do check your strategy on both laptops, tablets and mobile phones with this grid, there’s probably a lot to change.

Mobile technologies in near and not-so-near future: free phones, smarwatches and augmented reality

To conclude his show, Tomi Ahonen gave us three insights to keep in mind for the next few years. After the “3-minutes tablet” and “30-seconds phone”, we could expect smart watches to fill up the “3-second” void in our connected life, with notifications and alerts. They already are on the market, with crowdfunded projects such as Pebble, and then tech giants, from Samsung, already out of the woods, and, to come soon, Apple and Microsoft.

Another cool insight into the future: the price of smartphones. Following Moore’s law, and acknowledging the previous drops in prices, Tomi expects prices of basic smartphones (around $150 today) to $38 in 2016, and around $19 in 2017. In 2019, smartphones would cost about $10. What will be the new expensive toy for early adopters? Well, remain seated.

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Last but not least, and with a far-reaching vision, Tomi bets that augmented reality will be the next mass medium, leaving phones back in the past, and allowing us yet another complete disruption of all existing trades. The proposal is damn sexy. Right now, about 4% of smartphone users are augmented reality users as well, with an industry value of $496 million in 2013 (Markets and Markets, Oct. 2013). You can find here the transposition of growth of mobile technologies over the last few years, and how we could anticipate the growth of augmented reality on a similar scale.

We’ll take some time at Innovation is Everywhere to make our own introspection on these multitude of insights and visions, with a huge thanks to both Matthew Dawes at MWA 2014 and Tomi Ahonen for delivering this gold matter.

If you want to read more from Tomi Ahonen on mobile technologies, you can deep-dive into his free 500p “Insider’s guide to mobile”.