It can be difficult to tell when a technology or an industry has become mature. Definitions differ according to who you’re talking to, but there is one surefire indicator of maturity, and that is when we come to take that technology for granted. Some of us may remember when PCs were far from common. Someone who got a PC would tell everyone they knew, and it would be something impressive and exciting. These days, PCs are commonplace, and it is more unusual to hear that someone doesn’t have a PC than to find out that they just bought one.

By this measure, mobile technology is now mature. Like cars, microwave ovens, TVs and even PCs, mobile phones are a tool of modern life that many of us take for granted. Most people have one, or more than one, and even young children have them. These devices are no longer merely mobile phones – they are all-in-one devices that act as portable radios or MP3 players, take photographs, and yes, make phone calls.

Even though mobile is mature enough to be taken for granted, Tomi Ahonen, in Mobile as 7th of the Mass Media, idenfities some characteristics that differentiate mobile as a medium from all the others (print, radio, television, internet and so on) that have come before. We take these characteristics for granted too, but it is in the best interest of marketers and others to consider the value of these factors when considering how to integrate mobile into a campaign.

Mobile is a personal mass medium

This seems contradictory, at first glance, but it is true. While it has the broad reach of broadcast media, mobile is personal first and foremost. When a consumer looks at his or her mobile phone, the message is going to him or her alone. This is not a mass consumption media (like film or television) – mobile reaches out to individual consumers on a one-to-one basis.

Mobile users are permanently connected

The mobile user is permanently connected, and many have come to rely on their mobile phones as a source of information. A survey of 5,013 US owners of smartphones by Ipsos for Google, found that 70% of US smartphone owners will use their phones when shopping, while in the stores. Other research has revealed how the majority of people will use their devices during other activities, including dining, meetings with friends, and so on.

Mobile devices are always carried

No other medium is quite as ubiquitous as the mobile phones that are in the pockets and bags of so many people. That may be the reason why people use their mobile phones as alarm clocks. Nokia reported at MindTrek 2010 that, on average, people the world over check their phones 150 times per day, which works out to once every 6.5 minutes when we’re awake.

Mobile enables augmented reality

Although augmented reality is still in its infancy, the ability to overlay information on visuals in real-time is only possible with mobile devices. Applications already exist to utilize augmented reality in games (overlaying UFOs over cityscapes, for example) as well in combination with location awareness, so that (for example) augmented reality can indicate the direction and distance of the nearest convenience store or toilet.

Mobile devices include a built-in payment channel

In Kenya (population 38 million), 7.6 million people have bank accounts – compared to ten million people who have mobile-banking accounts. The Central Bank of Kenya values daily m-banking transactions as 1B Kenyan shillings, equivalent to US$10 million. This set up is unique to Kenya at the moment, but may become more common as near field communication and other technology make it easy to use our mobile phones as credit cards, or to access our bank accounts. Many smartphone users have some experience of this, downloading and paying for applications over the air directly from their devices.

Mobile has the most accurate audience info

Because every individual mobile device is registered separately on the network, mobile has potentially got the most accurate audience information of any other medium. Once issues of privacy/anonymisation and data sharing have been sorted out, measurement of the mobile audience should be

Mobile is definitely here, in the palms and pockets of the world, but there is still a way to go before it is used to its best effect.