LAS VEGAS -- A panel of experts at the International CES discussed trends in handset development and what will spark public interest in 2014 and beyond.
Ryan Bidan, director of product marketing at Samsung Mobile; Anthony Bartolo, tech evangelist at Microsoft; Steve Holmes, vice president of Intel's new devices group; and Jon Zweig, founder and president of the mobile video ad network AdColony, agreed that managing data and making meaningful consumer experiences will be the deciding factor in manufacturer and advertiser success. The panel discussion was moderated by Wilson Rothman of NBC News Digital Group.
Wilson Rothman: Is there a physical stopping point for smartphones?
Ryan Bidan: Smartphones have come a really, really long way. When you look at form factors, you see a little standardization around what consumers think about that large form factor. When you look under the hood at things like processors, resolution, memory configurations, you're starting to see little division in terms of what's delivered to the consumer. Whereas a phone a year ago from a phone today, there's less difference than a phone two years ago from a phone today.
Speed needs to increase. Resolution needs to increase. I believe there isn't one right solution for everyone. There are certain paradigms that people engage with, but... there isn't one size that fits all. You reach a point wherein that specific form factor and those specific uses, you start to max out. Then the product evolves.
Wilson Rothman: Are the new platforms that Microsoft rolls out making mobile smarter?
Anthony Bartolo: Microsoft is taking its ecosystem as a whole and making it available so you can use the device at first touch and have functionality on the backend for developers. What Microsoft is doing is taking a step back, saying, "We care about the partner," but saying, "We want to make sure our customers have ubiquitous access."
Wilson Rothman: How does a customer buy a device and grow into an ecosystem?
Anthony Bartolo: They buy for looks and need. We don't put up walls around other OS offers... but in using Microsoft technology, there is a gravitational pull toward further utilization, further adoption.
Ryan Bidan: I'd be hard pressed to say one [ecosystem] is right. From the Samsung perspective, we've tried to be open where we can and closed where we can deliver a better solution. I still want people to have good experience with Samsung, that'll help with the brand and get them going forward.
Mobile devices are a really mature, really well understood market, particularly in the US. It's about refining the experience and contextual relevance. We know consumers are using tablets for entertainment. They still go back to their PC and create. The Galaxy NotePro was our attempt to say, "Let's not have you go back to laptop for use all the time... we're trying to merge from what you consider entertainment devices and productivity devices."
The reality of it is, for most consumers, [buying a product] is not that complex a decision-making process -- it's specific uses they want to do with a device, certain form factors. Based on that, the third piece in their electronics ecosystem is about price. Consumers going in have a certain price point or threshold in mind.
Wilson Rothman: How do you determine what a customer wants and needs in a smartphone out of the box?
Anthony Bartolo: There are going to be specific needs; the discoverability of information required by the end user has to be simple. You're now starting to see a lot of the offerings of OSes that include big data as a native part, e.g., direct access into LinkedIn and Facebook without having to load the app. There is still the vast majority that pick up a smartphone and it's too overwhelming. There's too much. You're now seeing the end user as the person in charge, as opposed to being dictated on how they use their data.
Steve Holmes: We start around what are the needs we personally see within the new devices group. We look at problems we wrestle with every day.
Ryan Bidan: Consumers know they want Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, so there's less burden on us as device providers to expose those things to them to make sure they get full value out of a device. Our device becomes more about servicing new experiences than this stuff that exists in the ecosystem and has for a while.
Wilson Rothman: Are developers frustrated by this, and when do they jump into the dance?
Jon Zweig: Developers follow the money; they're looking to see who makes the most money on what platforms. We've seen iOS take a lead in terms of revenue per day, so, yeah, it's an interesting problem for the developer if they have to develop their app for different platforms.
You've got to get ahead of the curve, get enough users so that maybe you get a buyer. In gaming, it's a lot more complicated to support different devices' ecosystems. If it's a Dropbox or less UI intensive and more on the backend that things are happening, it's easier to support.
Wilson Rothman: How does a new galaxy of devices, e.g., wearables, make our smartphones smarter? Will they make our smartphones irrelevant?
Steve Holmes: Smartphones and what they can do is certainly going to increase as they become contextually relevant. Many of the wearables out there, many of which are really attached to smartphones, what you see is... people using that data to gather data or make your smartphone contextually smarter. I think there's also this area of wearables as an IO device; these are all applications where you're trying to solve some of the friction that's around interacting with your smartphone.
Wilson Rothman: What aren't smartphones doing that wearables have to do for it?
Steve Holmes: They're not connected with your body, not always in your hand, and there's no sensor data. The smartphone is sort of the engine of your personal electronics world, gets refined and more evolved.
Wilson Rothman: [Samsung] experimented with a smartwatch that doesn't need a smartphone, that has built-in WiFi connectivity. What was the decision process behind that?
Steve Holmes: It's more about computer acceptance. When you put cellular connectivity in a device, expectations are well set. We made a conscious effort with this gear to say, "This is an entry point into a market. Let's start with that platform and see where the practical use cases are." We didn't want to box it in and make this a smartphone on your wrist.
Wilson Rothman: Have users expressed a desire or a need for these wearables?
Anthony Bartolo: It comes down to information that's captured through sensors using GPS functionality on your watches, on even traffic cameras. It's the amount of data that's being captured, that's being utilized by all these devices that provide us with the information and the insight for what we want to do.
Wilson Rothman: There's this gigantic pile of data sitting around [from apps]. The challenge is finding out what to do with it and how to turn it around to make it useful to consumers and clients.
Anthony Bartolo: We're already challenged with smartphone security. In terms of BYOB aspect, with all these sensors now coming in, how does the IT professional ensure that information being captured is secure?
Jon Zweig: We encourage app developers to de-indentify their data but give us some general sense of who your audience is, where they are, and what they like doing. Generally, we can take that data, run it through our system, and provide the appropriate video application.
Wilson Rothman: Where is the point where you can't figure out all of the data, and how are you handling these intricacies? How do you keep your customers from getting angry?
Steve Holmes: The next challenge for the industry to solve is how do we make all that data meaningful to the user. Having data is great, but the analysis of the data, the conclusions you draw, are going to be the big difference in making sure your device is useful.
Ryan Bidan: It's contextualizing a lot more of this information. We have a lot of the data, but your phone already knows a lot about you. Being able to surface that in a useful, meaningful, and contextually relevant way for the consumer is important.
Jon Zweig: As the future of smartphones evolve, it's about tearing down that technological barrier that gets in the way of what normal interaction would be. Following the basic rules of human communication, how do we replicate that in a smartphone? For example, people will not wait more than three seconds for an application to load or stand for bad connectivity.
Probably the biggest issue is advertising. If you're a brand marketer, and the customer has to wait for an ad to load, or it sounds tinny, you waste money.
Wilson Rothman: Do you see NFC as an enabler or key driver to making smartphones smarter?
Ryan Bidan: The reality is NFC is less compelling than what it enables. These are the type of short-range connections we can't facilitate in another way with different technology. Can I say with any certainty that it's the right solution tomorrow? No.
Anthony Bartolo: Bluetooh provides a connection without the identification. NFC provides that touchpoint and is WiFi certificate based. It comes down to what the need is, if you need the capability to have secure connection.
Steve Holmes: It's really around what is the right technology to solve the experience you're trying to create as a technology provider. We can advance the efficiency of Bluetooth, the security of these different technologies.
Ryan Bidan: Consumers are not stupid. I think it's our job to expose the technology where it's relevant. For example, the [Samsung] Galaxy has a NFC-enabled handshake that's sent over WiFi, but does the consumer care? No. Amazing things are going on under the hood of these devices, but we need to be able to tell that to the consumer in a way that's not all speaks and feeds.
Jon Zweig: Regardless of which technology it is, from an advertising perspective, we want one of those technologies to be adopted very quickly, so we can complete the advertising loop.
Wilson Rothman: Regarding mobile apps, there is a problem with fragmentation, especially in Android. Where is Samsung at in terms of making their devices not so fragmented?
Jon Zweig: The steps that you guys have made, along with Google, over the last several years are huge. It's less of a problem than it was several years ago, and I expect that to continue. It's not just screen size. It's resolution allowment, memory issues, CPU issues. Any spec can be a potential pitfall, especially in gaming. There have been many, many strides over the last few years... we're seeing our Android inventory increase.
Ryan Bidan: Fewer devices are taking larger shares of the department, and fragmentation is decreasing, but from a device perspective, it's a huge issue. The reality is spec limitations aren't as stringent today as they were two years ago. There aren't huge hurdles between processors and applications and horsepower constraints. There will be less as we go forward.
Wilson Rothman: Is crosstalk between Samsung mobile and electronics increasing?
Ryan Bidan: We do make all these screens, and we care very much about how people are using them and about getting people to spend more time in front of them. We're trying to build a consistent platform across smartphones and TV -- we know people are sitting on the couch watching TV, and they have a smartphone or tablet in their lap -- so we're thinking through how these devices interact together.