Mobile Madness, Hand Sets And Where North America Lags In Social Media

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Bryan Person from the New Comm Road Podcast sent me a direct message from Twitter thinking that there might be an interesting post on the topic of mobile usage here is South East Asia. I don’t think I’m cracking the Da Vinci Code or saying anything you probably already don’t know, but mobile has an entirely different meaning to the people here.
First off, mobile devices are more commonly referred to as “hand phones”. This struck me as strange because the functionality of it being a phone is hardly the primary use over here. Texting is huge (like I said, nothing you don’t already know), but my biggest surprise was how much more popular Nokia devices are here. The Nokia N95 (which is also getting some traction in our parts) gets similar star power draw as the iPhone does in the United States. Multimedia and the ability to play audio and video seem to be much more important than stuff like the qwerty keyboard of a Blackberry.
These people text message fast and effectively. I remember watching one attendee over at PodCamp Singapore working their mobile SMS with one hand. Man, those fingers were boogieing.
Next up is the location-based-like use of the mobile. People, literally, using SMS to locate, meet and engage. It makes me realize that online social networks next huge breakthrough will be breaking the mobile barrier. Twitter and Facebook mobile are both big steps, but when it really becomes more commonplace and built into the mobile service, we’re going to see big changes, once again, in how we connect.
Just thinking about mobile usage in Asia enabled me to reflect on my own experiences in Montreal_ and they are pretty similar. That being said, I know that I am more of the exception in my parts whereas all of the functionality that I engage with at the mobile level are core to how people out here connect and stay connected to their peer groups.
Mobile Marketing is still nascent. Most of the more common success stories are tied into people getting SMS-driven advertising in return for some kind of free service or users who have signed up to a media property and have agreed to receive SMS marketing based on content they have chosen. Nothing spectacular_ and nothing truly unique.
I remember sitting down with Andy Nulman from Airborne Entertainment and the must-read-Blog, Pow! Right Between The Eyes, to discuss a mobile marketing/SMS-driven imitative. He thought we would have more success screaming the idea out of the Twist Image HQ office on to St. Laurent Blvd. than trying to build the program through SMS.
So while the adoption and usage of mobile is a much richer experience here in Asia, the marketing machine behind it still seems to be in the nascent stages.


  1. Thanks for this post, Mitch. It was when I lived in Australia for two years from 2001-2003 that I first found out about text messaging. Because calling mobile phones was generally much more expensive than it is here in the US, sending a text, or SMS, just made good economic sense — particularly for starving grad students. While there, I also had Singaporean friends and classmates whose tales of their “hand set” use blew away anything I had ever seen or done in America. Your post confirms that this is likely still the case, though I think we North Americans are starting to catch up.
    Enjoy the rest of your tip!

  2. I think more and more North Americans are adopting mobile habits. We have to always remember that our communications infrastructure was never the same as Asia.
    We were always much more focused on stuff like computers and broadband, but that’s changing now as mobile becomes our primary form of “connecting.”

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