I'm just headed off from San Francisco after a successful two days at MobileBeat 2013. This conference brought together a few hundred people from across the mobile market spectrum - startups, venture capitalists, established vendors, and corporate customers. For me, the demographic was very different than any other conference I've attended before, and while I was skeptical about whether there was a role for IBM in the event, I'm happy to say the time and money was well-spent.

Exhibiting at this show was interesting - the single ballroom with about a dozen vendors was very low-key. Ourselves we just had a table with an IBM banner, some demos and videos. A lot of the attendees stopped by, with the most frequently asked question being obvious in a way: "Why is IBM here?" All of the other exhibitors were startups, and we stood out in that way like a sore thumb. What was cool is that the question wasn't asked with audacity or skepticism, but rather genuine curiosity.

It was enjoyable to answer that question. IBM had three reasons for being at the event:

1) To demonstrate our leadership across the spectrum of enterprise mobile solutions and garner market awareness and visibility for IBM MobileFirst. On that front, I felt very successful. We talked specifically about IBM Worklight and the need for a Mobile Enterprise Application Platform quite frequently; attendees were pleased to learn that the developer edition is a free download, based on Eclipse and Java, and has the strength of being able to build an application once for deployment across all devices and OSs. Most of the developers at the conference seemed to be in the camp of using native mobile development tools; many had not yet really considered what a mobile application platform might offer them. Another frequent topic of conversation was IBM Tealeaf CX Mobile, our analytics solution for delivering optimized mobile app customer experiences.

2) To learn about other mobile enterprise solutions in the market for potential partnerships. This sort of corporate networking is the lifeblood of Silicon Valley, but a new sport for me. IBM has a set of people who do this for a living, and my colleague Deborah Magid was a judge at MobileBeat for a startup competition earlier today. I have a ton of business cards and LinkedIn requests and emails already from people I met throughout the show, and my first four meetings or calls today were all in line with developing the ecosystem around IBM MobileFirst. MobileBeat used a conference networking app called Bizzabo, which had some really nice features to connect you to others at the show via Twitter and LinkedIn. It even identified suggested prospective networking contacts based on shared titles, network contacts, and other considerations.

3) To announce a partnership with Sprint Velocity around the connected car. The joint announcement highlighted the Sprint Velocity Service Bus, a network-agnostic solution that enables in-car "infotainment" systems to be managed through a mobile app. The new Sprint solution uses IBM MessageSight, a M2M (machine-to-machine) appliance we announced in April and shipped in June which specializes in handling extremely high volumes of transactional messages in near-real-time. Forbes describes all this very well in their story, "IBM And Sprint Team Up On Smarter Connected Cars That Send Data When The Engine's Off":

Cars that run on Sprint’s new service can send data in much smaller packages (6 kilobytes per data package compared to 60) on lower bandwidth, while requiring a small enough amount of battery power to effectively run when a car’s transmission has been turned off. That allows the car to remember location, seat position, and other personal preferences while also keeping track of the car’s diagnostics.
[The system's] cloud storage would remember your key fob or start-up credentials compared to other users of the car--handy if you want to turn on your vehicle from your phone and blast the air conditioning as you walk into the parking lot. “If your wife likes different radio stations or a different temperature setting, it can remember those,” says Bob Johnson, Sprint Velocity’s director of development. "Then it can even transfer those from car to car."

There was press coverage in a number of publications, and as the interviews progressed I found myself in daydream land. Wouldn't it be great if then those parameters could be extended to rental cars or taxis or... I think we are not that far off. Just like the rental car companies figured out how to command a premium for automation - their loyalty programs initially cost a lot of money to join, even though it saved them on labor costs - I would certainly pay for a service that meant I didn't have to spend the time pairing my phone, programming radio stations of interest, adjusting the seat and mirrors, and programming the GPS when I entered a rental car. The Sprint Velocity platform makes that possible, in a way that changes the dynamic of the car's infotainment system into one that is upgradeable and adaptable over time, instead of beginning to become obsolete the day the car is manufactured.

The event was also useful for connections made to other venues - the Silicon Valley MobileMonday community, some other mobile-related events coming up this fall, and even other IBMers. I had a chance to visit the IBM Tealeaf offices in San Francisco, where my old boss Ken Bisconti is now running the show. There's always a lot happening on the west coast. And I always say I need to get out here more often.

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