Kevin Pedraja

Guest Post: Summing up a conference with an agenda as broad as GigaOM’s Mobilize 2011 in San Francisco is no easy task. The breadth of topics covered and companies represented over the two-day event was impressive. While there were a few new products and services announced, including new Android handsets and the “latest” 4G network from T-Mobile, the conference focused on the trends that are shaping the mobile industry. Here are just a few:

Tablets are no passing fad – Unlike netbooks or the forthcoming ultrabooks, tablet computers represent a sea change in the way consumers and business professionals use and create content. Based on the conversations at Mobilize, content players, app developers, enterprise IT departments and infrastructure companies are all optimizing for a tablet future. Sean Whitely of Salesforce.com noted that his entire sales team is now using the iPad. Another indicator came from the Mobilize audience itself: iPads were everywhere and there were even a few Android tablets on hand. (OK, at least one.)

The “consumerization” of IT – IT departments, which once ruled access to the corporate network with an iron fist and banned devices owned and maintained by employees, can no longer fight the BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) tide. Employees want to choose their own devices – whether it’s computers, tablets or phones – and are willing to assume the burden of maintaining them. That poses both challenges and opportunities for IT. Losing control of the end point is a major worry for security conscious IT managers, who now must think in terms of building security into the network itself. But the cost savings of user owned and maintained devices is hard to pass up. Cisco now has more than 10,000 Macs on its network, mostly employee maintained, and cites that as a reason for a huge increase in employee satisfaction.

Virtualization is cutting across the mobile landscape – It’s hard to overstate the degree to which virtualization is taking root, both at the server and the endpoint. One interesting concept, discussed by both Cisco and B Labs (one of the featured Launchpad start-ups at Mobilize) is the notion of a completely separate, virtualized mobile OS that would essentially turn one handset into two phones. Corporate IT departments could then control the data and apps that matter to them without forcing the end user to carry a separate, personal device.

The (Apple) Elephant in the room – Android’s market growth may be unstoppable but Apple and iOS seemed to weigh heavily on the minds of those at Mobilize. The iPad phenomenon was mentioned by multiple speakers, across a wide range of discussions, while both Sprint’s CTO Stephen Bye and T-Mobile’s VP of Marketing Cole Brodman were asked directly if and when their respective companies would get the iPhone. Bye was cagey, perhaps because Sprint is rumored to be getting the iPhone 5 (or whatever it will be called) next week. Brodman all but begged Apple CEO Tim Cook to give him a call, even as he talked up the company’s new 4G-enabled Android handsets.

2012 won’t be the year that mobile payments take off – While big companies like Visa and Veriphone were talking about the inevitability of mobile payment technologies like NFC (near field communications), others were more skeptical. Square’s COO, Keith Rabois, essentially described NFC as a technology in search of a problem, and not much of an improvement over the tried and true credit card swipe when it comes to consumer convenience. But Visa seems determined to make mobile payments happen, noting that they’re going to start shifting the burden for covering credit card fraud from banks to merchants in 2015, at least for those merchants who don’t adopt new mobile payment technologies. (That’s either an “incentive” or “blackmail” depending on your point of view.) Still, until there are more phones with NFC chips or “smart” credit cards it remains to be seen whether consumers will care.

While this is just a snapshot of the many big ideas discussed at Mobilize, one overriding theme is clear: we’re still at the early stages of a remarkable transformation in the way we work and play. Handsets are getting more powerful, services richer and the pace of innovation is accelerating rapidly.

Kevin Pedraja, VP at Sterling Communications in Seattle, can be followed on Twitter @kpedraja.

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