Are we underestimating the power of mobile?October 3, 2012: 12:01 AM ET
The future of mobile will determine how we carry about our everyday lives.
By Colleen Leahey
FORTUNE – Buzzworthy and of-the-moment, the "next best thing" can seem to change from week to week amongst Silicon Valley crowds. Right now, mobile is the hot topic: It presents the most monetizable promise, but companies have yet to find the magic key to maximizing its benefits.
On Tuesday morning at the Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit, Accel's Sonali De Rycker warned the audience of tossing mobile aside as a passing fad: "[It's] grossly overestimated in the short term, and grossly underestimated in the long term." Kleiner Perkins' Aileen Lee also jumped on board the mobile train, claiming it's bigger than a megatrend – it's a gigatrend – and the impact mobile will have on our lives is yet to be understood.
Lee continued, saying mobile will reinvent our personal and professional lives, calling the makeover Life 2.0. The lines between ownership, access, and demand will be blurred. Car-service app Uber and dress-sharing site Rent the Runway already offer services that blur those lines – millennials have less of a desire to own things when they can just borrow at the snap of a finger. "Assets will be shared among a diverse base of users," Lee said.
De Rycker believes mobile will fundamentally change the way we shop. Ninety-five percent of purchases are made in store, she said, but two-thirds of customers check the web before they hit the mall, and the majority of people use their phones to ask for fashion advice or research prices before they purchase anything. No company has managed to marry customers' online and physical profiles. In order for web information to not get lost when shoppers head to a store in person, a ton of data will be needed to match the personalities. But De Rycker is optimistic. "Somebody's gonna do it."
University of California at San Francisco Chancellor Susan Desmond-Hellmann said there's huge opportunity to bring Life 2.0 to the health and medicine industries by bringing a data-rich environment to patients. Think easy access to electronic medical records, allowing physicians to spend more time being caregivers and less time digging through files, and communities where health information is discussed freely.
The women's suggestions are exciting, but certainly bring up the question of how much data is too much for companies to play with. (Desmond-Hellmann funnily asked: "What's the difference between delightful and creepy?") Lee claimed the future is going to be all about collaborative consumption – reinventing the supply chain and bringing better value to the customer – and that requires a social contract between companies and consumers. Hellmann agreed. De Rycker said the contract has to be transparent in order for it to work. "On a human behavioral level," Helmann added, "it will be interesting."
Whether companies can smartly use data without making customers feel too exposed is left to be seen, but one thing is for certain: The mobile craze is far from diminishing.