Good news from Boeing, just in time for the holiday flying madness. With the growing popularity of on-board WiFi, engineers there needed to figure out how it propagates in an airline cabin.
There’s no mathematical model for predicting what happens to WiFi signals when you have a few hundred people packed together inside of a metal tube. So they came up with a testing protocol.
Boeing is proud of the fact that it only requires about ten hours to complete the series of tests. That’s a lot faster than the two weeks they thought it would take. But it’s still a lot longer than they thought real people would want to spend sitting on a plane going nowhere (they should pass that amazing conclusion on to Delta). So they improvised…
The team determined that potatoes were ideal stand-ins for passengers, given their similar physical interactions with electronic signal properties. Much of the testing was conducted on the grounded airplane with the seats filled with 20,000 pounds of potato sacks.
Judging from the video of the test, the potatoes were as helpful as the average frequent flier and no less attractive.
The testing should help airlines and regulators better deal with the twenty-first century. Right now, you’re required to power down any device that has an on-off switch before take off, even if you do spend the next several hours sitting on the ground like a sack of spuds with nothing to read except the airline magazine, assuming it’s still in the seat pocket and the pages aren’t stuck together.
Whether or not that particular gambit works, we’ll be seeing more and more media business models – large and small – built on that assumption.
Direct media distribution is already at that point. There’s very little current audio or video or text content that can’t be accessed on the device of your choosing, and producers routinely create snackable content for mobile consumption.
Indirect media is making the same transition. There’s already electronic distribution of interactive restaurant menus, airline boarding passes and product brochures. Even rental car keys.
Individually, this stuff is neither new nor remarkable. But it’s still a relative novelty that coexists with printed paper, theater screens and public address systems. It won’t for very much longer, though, as the default choice for incidental information delivery moves from paper and loudspeakers to wearable screens and ubiquitous ear buds.
The major obstacle – call it a market gap opportunity – is the unpredictability of customers’ gear. Marketers are obsessive about controlling their message and product managers have to negotiate trade offs between the richness of an experience and the number of potential customers they can reach.
Enable consistent content and quality of service regardless of the point of delivery and you’ve enabled a new world.
“Fifty percent of e-commerce happens on mobile devices in 2013,” said Scott Raney, a partner at Redpoint Ventures, when asked to go out on a limb and predict next year’s big surprise in mobile telecoms at the annual Wireless Communications Alliance’s venture capital evening. His fellow panelist didn’t cut off the limb, though. Quite the contrary.
“A large e-commerce player will get to 50% in 2013,” said Kevin Talbot, co-founder and managing partner of Relay Ventures. “I know who it is.”
The event took place on 14 November 2013, a week and a half ahead of Black Friday and Cyber Monday. It’s dangerous to make wild predictions that could be debunked while memories are still fresh, but Raney and Talbot had nothing to fear.
Showrooming – going into a store, finding what you like, then finding a better price online – is helping to push consumers toward mobile purchases, and could account for mobile’s higher share on Black Friday, when shoppers are in stores and not at their computers. “It drives Best Buy crazy but it provides such value to the user,” said Tae Hea Nahm, founding general partner of Storm Ventures.
Year on year, Adobe says mobile doubled its share of online transactions over the opening weekend of the holiday shopping season. In 2011, mobile accounted for 13% of online sales on Black Friday and 11% on Cyber Monday. Do it again next year and mobile will account for near enough to half of e-commerce dollars.
“Mobile payments is like waiting for Godot,” said Omar Javaid, managing director of BBO Global, speaking at a recent What’s Hot (and What’s Not) in Mobility 2012 forum in Mountain View. “Every year is the year of NFC but it never happens.” The problem, he says, is that processing payments is a system play. It’s a space that’s controlled by a few big players and they’re not very interested.
Quinn Li, managing director of Qualcomm Ventures, agreed. He made the point everyone is trying to get a piece of the mobile payment value chain, but in order to it you first need to get everyone else in the chain to agree and then you need to handle a lot of transactions quickly. “Payments is a pennies business and you need scale,” he said.
But even if start ups find it difficult to take a penny or two, the fact that the transaction is happening at all creates an opening. Scott Raney, a partner at Redpoint Ventures, said he’s encouraging entrepreneurs to find ways to add value to mobile transactions rather than trying to handle the payments.
Creating loyalty programs on mobile devices is one example. Consumers will still carry around a few credit cards, but they won’t put up with the clutter of cards and keychain tags for every store in the mall. Javaid pointed to Apple’s Passbook iOS app as proof of concept, saying he wouldn’t use it as a substitute for his Amex card but it’s handy for Walgreens or Starbucks plastic.
It’s an end run opportunity: mobile apps, or even devices, become integral to transactions, but outside of the secure boundaries guarded by banks, credit card processors and the other behemoths of the financial world.
The What’s Hot (and What’s Not) forum is an annual event organized by the Wireless Communications Alliance. This year’s event took place on 14 November 2012 at the Fenwick & West law offices.