With the convergence of social networking and mobile phones becoming more pronounced, tech companies are working toward a future when those devices are beyond smart and become intuitive, speakers at a San Francisco conference said this week.
Using built-in accelerometers, GPS systems and compasses, a phone can have a “sixth sense” in determining when its owner is driving to work or sitting down to lunch, speakers at the Social-Loco Conference said Monday. And then the phone can tap into a social network to make contextual recommendations, such as routes to get around a traffic jam or a new dish to try.
“It should be able to understand you automatically,” said Sam Liang, founder and chief executive of Alohar Mobile, a Palo Alto company that is working on just such a mobile platform.
The conference at the Mission Bay Conference Center focused on social networking, location-based services and mobile phones, trends that are particularly important to the biggest social network of all, Facebook.
Generating revenue from mobile users is one of the key investor concerns that dragged down Facebook's stock price after its debut as a publicly traded company last month. The company previously warned it did not have a proven method of generating revenue from mobile. But in the past few days, Facebook's stock has rebounded, closing at $31.41 per share Monday, $6.59 per share lower than its initial public offering price.
Facebook is working on different mobile advertising opportunities and has seen “really significant interest” in ads in mobile news feeds that the company has begun testing, Carolyn Everson, vice president of global marketing solutions, told Bloomberg.
But the company isn't announcing any new mobile ad products just yet.
Still, taking advantage of social, mobile and location-based technologies is a key to Facebook's future, one of its executives said at the Mission Bay conference.
“The mobile phone is probably the most social device that any of us have,” Emily White, the Menlo Park company's director of mobile partnerships, said during a conference keynote.
“It is the most closely held member of my family that is not walking and breathing and something I rely on to do everything from waking up in the morning, to getting me to work, to figuring out, in some cases, what I need to wear,” she said.
More than 500 million of Facebook's 900 million monthly active members access the service on mobile devices, and about 20 percent of all mobile traffic in the United States is directed to Facebook. About 30 percent of people who register every day do so from a mobile phone, White said.
Mobile is particularly important to Facebook in developing countries. For example, White said, about 90 percent of the company's users in Africa use a mobile phone.
But devices that give away a person's whereabouts and activities also have raised fears of privacy invasion.
Damien Patton, chief executive of Banjo, a Palo Alto startup that developed a social discovery app, said the benefits of location-based technology and social networking outweigh the dangers.
“The reality is there are deviants and weird people all over the world,” he said.
Patton said concerns that privacy is dead in the social networking era are “ridiculous,” but added that companies must give users controls to “shape their own privacy direction in the next five years."
"It's about finding the right balance between giving the users control over their privacy and not making it so daunting because it's such a pain to find,” he said.