Burn your business cards, recycle your little black book – the era of the cloud address book is here.
What is that, you ask? Just picture your cell phone address book – which might allow you to send text, picture, video and e-mail messages – mashed with IMs, such as AIM, Gchat, Yahoo! IM and social networking, a la Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, FriendFeed, LinkedIn… you get the idea.
With smartphone growth up 11 percent and PC sales down 9 percent this year, you can bet that people will want to stretch their mobile devices to the max. In fact, there’s no doubt that mobile is the next greenfield opportunity for business. Whether you’re a major TV network or a local retailer, mobile sync, rich media, Web browsing, advertising and app stores provide avenues for bringing in additional revenue.
So why care about an address book – am I totally over-hyped, here?
Let’s quickly review the history of the address book. If you think back to the prehistoric age of cell phones, there was a time when just being able to electronically add information to your mobile “black book” was cool and new. After that, integrating the address book with things like Microsoft Outlook enabled people to send e-mail and accept meeting requests – that was pretty exciting. Even better, the advent of mobile sync solutions now allows you to keep your mobile phone in sync with your computer and the Internet. This means you no longer have to worry about losing valuable content and contacts.
We’ve come pretty far over the last decade, but we’re not done yet. Along with the ability to sync a wide range of content came Apple’s trend-setting iPhone and the rise of the App Store. As companies like Nokia, Samsung, Palm, RIM, Microsoft, Google, LG and more rush to catch up to Apple, something else is rumbling on the horizon. It’s the cloud address book.
Currently, we can access social networks from smartphones, online portals and desktop apps, but what if there was a unified view that you could carry in your pocket and always access? For example, what if you started following someone on Twitter or became friends with a colleague through LinkedIn and they automatically showed up in your mobile’s address book? What if your Twitter replies and Facebook wall posts all showed up on your phone as SMS messages that you could reply to from your phone without even logging into either app or service?
This opens up even more doors to communication and social networking. All of a sudden, the address book is no longer just a repository for phone numbers and e-mail addresses, but the portal to your personal network and the Web. To keep in touch, just sync once, and chat everywhere.
Of course, this doesn’t extend to just your cell phone. As automakers, GPS devices and even at-home phone systems seek to enrich their content and wireless capabilities, you are likely to see the ability to sync your content virtually anywhere you want.
Could the boring old address book really foreshadow the future of mobile communication? You might laugh at the thought, but it has serious potential. It also presents an enticing opportunity for mobile carriers to lock in customers more than they do already. Or, if you’re a company like Facebook or LinkedIn and you’re not launching an app store, the cloud address book with some mobile advertising on the side still gives you a direct connection to your users.
Even Twitter can play a big role here. For example, what if you could send and receive advertising promotions via direct messages? Perhaps even better, what if you could receive an SMS that the latest episode of your favorite TV show is now available for download straight to your phone?
As you might imagine, the era of the app store has only just begun, but because it reinforces fragmentation at its core, it forces users to split their attention (and CPU) among multiple apps. By contrast, the cloud address book soon might represent the center of your mobile and non-mobile universe. Just wait and see.
Capobianco is CEO of Funambol.