GigaOM’s Top 15 Mobilize Influencers 2010


The world is rediscovering the web thanks to smartphones and mobile connectivity. What was once a source of information has evolved to provide another layer of context and interaction that helps bridge the real and virtual worlds. With the promise of augmented reality, or the spread of location-based services that can provide real-time information about where your friends are as they move about the real world, the implications for commerce, society and even individual privacy are huge. Ahead of our Mobilize 2010 conference next Thursday, we’ve compiled our second annual list of those who are influencing the direction of this transformation of the web. They may not know all the implications of this new web, but they’re helping shape it.

Before delving into the list, it’s worth taking a look at how last year’s selection has fared. The two government officials — FCC Chairman, Julius Genachowski and Lawrence Strickling, the head of an agency responsible for distributing billions in broadband grants — are both still in their appointed offices, but Genachowski’s tussle with the telecoms over network neutrality has weakened his influence. Strickling has fared better and has managed to distribute his dollars in a short amount of time with less fuss than anticipated, but the government is still an important arbiter of wireless growth and innovation, so we’ve kept at least one regulator on our list. Another of our initial class of influencers should be gaining in prominence as the FCC gears up to set some rules that will enabled the spread of the co-called “white spaces broadband” tomorrow, an area of potential growth that put Ranveer Chandra, researcher in the Networking Research Group at Microsoft Research, on last year’s list.

When it came to executives, our influencers were a mixed bag. Apple CEO Steve Jobs is still on top, and Andy Rubin at Google is still experiencing success with the Android platform, while Scott Richardson of Clearwire is making good on plans to cover 120 million people with the carrier’s WiMAX network. On the handset side, Sanjay Jha, co-CEO, Motorola, has seen his bet on Android pay off, but the question still remains: How long will that lift the business? Meanwhile, Frank Meehan, CEO, INQ, has seen his vision of app-specific and social phones continue to expand and even influence other carriers and perhaps even the world’s largest social network. By the way, Joe Hewitt, a programmer at Facebook, who appeared on the list last year may get to work on that still-mythical device. Jahangir Mohammed, CEO and founder of Jasper Wireless, has seen the machine to machine revolution that we predicted continue and has signed more carrier partners while helping AT&T add more connected devices in the last few quarters.

However, not everyone did well. Jon S. von Tetzchner, co-Founder and CEO, Opera Software, is no longer CEO and Ian Freed, VP Amazon Kindle is no longer riding as high as the iPad and a slew of upcoming tablets threaten the Kindle’s e-Reader dominance. Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie, co-CEOs of Research in Motion, launched the next generation of the BlackBerry operating system to help stave off their declining market share, but most folks weren’t impressed. And while his company is doing well, Dick Lynch, CTO and EVP, Verizon, was just surpassed by Lowell McAdam, who was head of the Verizon Wireless business and recently promoted to COO of the parent company Verizon Communications, while also being next in line for the CEO spot.

As for the only woman on last year’s list, Robin Chase, co-founder and former CEO of Zipcar, and the founder and CEO of GoLoco and Matter Networks is still plugging away with her vision to use cell phones to create a more efficient and less wasteful transportation system. So what will the future hold for the current crop of Mobilize Influencers? We’ll have to wait and see, but here they are:

(Intro text by Stacey Higginbotham)

Sanjiv Ahuja, Chairman and CEO, LightSquared

Ahuja is spearheading the creation of an entirely new wireless network that will combine a terrestrial Long Term Evolution Network with an existing satellite network. The most interesting part of this network is that it will sell access to retailers and virtual mobile network operators and could spark competition for mobile broadband access. Theoretically, this means coverage everywhere because of the satellite angle, and better pricing for mobile broadband for all. However, this is a long shot. Ahuja is actually taking a lemon of a business (LightSquared is the new name for a faltering satellite provider) and hoping that increased demand for mobile broadband can help him make lemon-aid — or at least profits for LightSquared’s biggest investor, Harbinger Capital Partners.To do this, LightSquared will need a compelling handset, billions of dollars to build out the network and folks that want to buy its service. It’s a tall order.

(Stacey Higginbotham)

Bob Bowman, CEO, MLB Advanced Media

Bob Bowman is on this list because live video will be the big test of mobile broadband usage. Major League Baseball has long been an advocate of making its content available on as many platforms as possible, but only when it makes sense. In addition to its highly profitable broadband video service, the baseball league has made in-roads onto mobile devices like the iPhone and iPad, and is now making its video available on Roku and the PlayStation 3. Bowman’s MLB Advanced Media was one of the first content providers to stream live video through an application on the iPhone, and his team stepped up in a big way with the release of an iPad app that takes advantage of the larger screen dimensions of the tablet.

What MLB didn’t do in 2010 is release an application for Android mobile devices. Due in part to Android’s fragmentation problem, the baseball league has shied away from developing for Google’s mobile operating system. Unlike Apple’s iOS, the problem with developing for Android devices is that various carriers and mobile handset manufacturers determine which version of the OS is available. With various flavors of Android 1.5, 1.6 and 2.1 spread across millions of devices, MLB would have to develop multiple iterations of a new mobile app, which is something it didn’t want to do.

(Ryan Lawler)

Peter Chou, CEO, HTC

For nearly the last decade, Peter Chou’s HTC was known as the “quiet company” in the handheld space: the unknown, behind-the-scenes designer of many a rebadged Windows Mobile handset, arguably some of the best smartphones running Microsoft’s mobile platform. But as Windows Mobile lost momentum and competitors leap-frogged past Microsoft, HTC needed another avenue for growth, and Chou saw that Android was it. HTC didn’t slowly transition to Android either: Under Chou, the company began to iterate handsets nearly as fast as Google was revising the Android platform. The effort turned what could have been a lengthy transition for HTC into near-instant results, raising HTC’s profits and smartphone market share. Chou’s vision hasn’t stopped with hardware design either. The company’s HTC Sense user interface also made the transition from Windows Mobile to Android. And recently, Chou introduced the next version of Sense that adds cloud services and home media sharing to the snappy interface, ensuring that HTC will continue to ride the smartphone wave into a connected future.

(Kevin Tofel)

Dennis Crowley, Founder and CEO, Foursquare

Dennis Crowley is the reason many people whip out their smartphones as soon as they enter a restaurant or coffee shop. His company’s Foursquare service has become the default location-based “check in” app for many iPhone and Android users, thanks in part to its use of rewards such as badges and “mayorships,” which the service awards based on how often a user checks in to a particular location. Retailers have started to exploit Foursquare for marketing purposes by offering deals to “mayors” and their followers. The company has also signed a number of partnerships with publishers such as the Wall Street Journal and the Zagat series of travel guides to offer tips related to various locations profiled by the service. While there have been whispers in the past year about Facebook and Yahoo making acquisition offers for the company, Foursquare has chosen to remain independent and recently closed a $20-million round of venture financing. The New York-based company is actually Crowley’s second location-based startup; his first, Dodgeball, shared many of the same features as Foursquare and was bought by Google in 2005.

(Mathew Ingram)

Warren East, CEO, ARM Holdings

What do Sony Playstation, iPhone, Samsung Galaxy, HTC Droid, Nintendo and TomTom have in common? For starters, they’re hot sellers, but more importantly, they’re all powered by chips that use the technology of ARM Holdings, a Cambridge, UK-based company that traces its roots back to Acorn Computers and Apple’s Newton device.

The skyrocketing sales of post-PC compute devices such as iPhones, iPads and other smart phones have helped turn ARM from a little-known licensor of chip technology into a must have mobile technology. A lot of credit goes to 49-year-old Warren East, the company’s CEO. East is an unusual chief executive: He shuns publicity and spearheads a laid-back and shy company.

East joined the company in 1994 from Texas instruments and was named CEO in 2001. An engineer himself, East takes pride in the fact that ARM is an engineering company that makes technology it’s happy to share with others. In 2001, the company had sales of £146.3 million ($228.5 million USD). In 2009, the company brought in twice as much: £305 million in revenues. During the first half of 2010 alone, the company has seen its revenues jump 30 percent (year-over-year) to £192 million.

Many believe by partnering with the likes of Qualcomm, Broadcom, Texas Instruments and Apple, the company is positioned to become the Intel of the post-PC era, without so much as making a single chip itself. Nearly 20 billion ARM-based
processors have found way into our lives, so there maybe something to that notion!

(Om Malik)

Tom Gruber, Co-Founder and CTO, Siri (acquired by Apple)

Old behaviors that were commonplace for the keyboard/mouse-driven desktop web need to be redefined for touch-based small screen devices. This behavior change is going to alter how we create, consume and distribute information. Tom Gruber, co-founder and CTO of Siri, a virtual personal assistant for the mobile Internet, understands that deeply. He’s been at the forefront of developing techniques that leverage the power of server-based computing, context aware artificial intelligence and simple user interfaces.

In the past, Gruber was the co-founder of Intraspect Software, a collaboration software company. He also started RealTravel, a service that allowed folks to create travel journals. He’s viewed as one of the thought leaders on semantic web and was involved in some of the earliest semantic web efforts. Siri is an extension of his thinking around the semantic web. Siri essentially made it easy to use web services as simple text or voice commands, making somewhat cumbersome tasks such as making reservations a breeze. Siri is widely regarded as a peek into the post-search future, one of the main reasons why Apple acquired the company for north of $200 million.

(Om Malik)

Omar Hamoui, VP of Mobile Ads, Google

Omar Hamoui is at the epicenter of the mobile ad space, which may be the hottest segment in all of mobile. Hamoui founded AdMob, while a grad student at Wharton four years ago, as a marketplace for content publishers and marketers looking to advertise on the mobile web, and the company quickly became the premier independent mobile advertising company in the industry. That success continued with the emergence of in-app advertising, which is getting legs thanks to the explosive uptake of smartphone applications.

Hamoui was the center of attention late last year as Apple and Google made aggressive bids for AdMob, with Google eventually acquiring the business for $750 million in stock. The rivalry between the two behemoths began to heat up two months later, when Apple agreed to acquire fellow mobile ad startup Quattro Wireless for $275 million. Apple has since launched its iAd business and recently cleared the way for Google to deliver ads through its immense library of mobile applications. Meanwhile, Android continues to gain ground on Apple’s iOS in North America, providing ever-increasing opportunities for Google to generate ad revenues on its own mobile operating system. Hamoui will continue to play a major role in mobile advertising as traffic on the mobile web ramps up and as usage of smartphone applications gains stream.

(Colin Gibbs)

Ian “Hixie” Hickson, Standards Development, Google and Editor of the HTML5 Spec

While most mobile developers are putting their efforts into developing native apps right now, there’s an alternative on the horizon: HTML5 apps. Broad HTML5 support in smartphones and other devices offers the tantalizing possibility of being able to build feature-packed, powerful web apps that will work cross-platform in the browsers of numerous devices: smartphones, tablets, laptops and desktop computers. Even though the APIs aren’t currently standardized for HTML5 across all devices yet, it’s already possible to deploy roughly the same codebase on all HTML5-enabled devices. Developing one native apps for multiple platforms is an appealing prospect. From the point of view of the consumer, ??HTML5 should allow for seamless workflow between platforms. In theory, you could be working on your laptop and hop across to your smartphone or tablet and continue working in the exact same HTML5 app.

While the HTML5 spec is not solely down to him, Hickson (now at Google, previously of Netscape and Opera) is the editor of the draft spec and played a key role in its development. Hickson has long been involved with the development and promotion of web standards; he also played a crucial role in the development of CSS and is the author of the Acid2 and Acid3 tests, which helped to encourage vendors to develop more standards-compliant browsers.

Photo credit: Flickr user luisvilla, licensed under CC-BY-NC-2.0 , used with permission.

(Simon Mackie)

Thomas Keys, COO, MetroPCS

MetroPCs has been a disruptive force in the prepaid market for years, and gained in prominence as well as subscribers during the recession. But this month, the company began its deployment of an LTE network before any of the bigger carriers, and said it would offer LTE-capable handsets in 2010 — at least six months before Verizon or other carriers would. As the COO, Keyes is in charge of strategic initiatives, such as bringing smartphones to MetroPCS and the LTE network deployment.

For the truly geeky, Metro also has an interesting network layout better suited for delivering mobile voice and broadband to folks who are using them as their primary phone and web connection: a model that more and more of the population is adopting. MetroPCs has consistently sought to be ahead of its time, so we can’t wait to see what it does next when it has a 4G network like the other big carriers.

(Stacey Higginbotham)

Michael Joseph, CEO, Safaricom

When Michael Joseph steps down from his company by the end of the year, he’ll leave a legacy behind like few others. Through Safaricom, which was incorporated in 2000, Joseph hasn’t just built a company, but also transformed a country. Much of this has to do with M-Pesa, Safaricom’s mobile banking product that launched in early 2007.

Banking was previously inaccessible to many Kenyans, but M-Pesa has made it possible for anyone with a mobile phone to pay for electricity, services and even water at communal water pumps in rural Kenya.

None of that would have happened if Joseph hadn’t listened to his customers. Safaricom had previously launched a product to wirelessly share prepaid mobile phone minutes with the intention to make prepaid phones more accessible to rural communities. However, Kenyans quickly started to use these mobile minutes as a de facto currency to pay for cab rides and drinks at local bars. Safaricom reacted by taking this informal mobile phone economy out of the shadows, and has since become the country’s biggest bank.

Joseph, who reportedly looked for a successor for the last two years, will be succeeded by Vodafone executive Bob Collymore.

Image courtesy (CC-BY-SA) of Flickr user World Economic Forum.

(Janko Roettgers)

Glenn Lurie, President of National Distribution for Wireless Operations President of Emerging Devices, Resale and Partnerships, AT&T

With such importance placed on direct consumer connectivity to the Internet, it’s easy to overlook other mobile opportunities. Not so for Glenn Lurie, who you can thank for web-connected devices that access the Internet via AT&T’s mobile broadband network, such as the Amazon Kindle 3G, dog collars that help track lost pets and pill bottles that send SMS reminders to take your medicine. Some of these examples may not sound sexy when compared to video conversations between two smartphones, but that doesn’t make them any less appealing to AT&T. Indeed, the carrier expects such machine-to-machine connections to bring in $1 billion in annual revenues by 2015.

If web-connected pets and pills don’t float your boat, look at the situation from the “dumb pipe” perspective: Lurie is helping turn a perceived weakness into a cash-filled opportunity by allowing data to simply flow through AT&T’s mobile broadband pipes. With a sense for the “Internet of Things,” Lurie is happy to offer AT&T’s network as a high-tech toll road for the low-bandwidth, high margin data devices of today and tomorrow.

(Kevin Tofel)

Pattie Maes, User-Interface Expert, MIT Media Lab

Pattie Maes probably isn’t a familiar name to many, but the technologies she is working on could shape the future of what you do with your mobile device. Currently working with the pioneering Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Maes is the founder and director of the lab’s Fluid Interfaces group, which is experimenting with new kinds of interfaces for computers and other devices — including what some researchers and developers are calling “augmented reality,” in which information about an object or a user’s surroundings is projected on top of a display, or even into the air near a device. Maes is also working on new forms of user interaction with devices, such as touch-activated or motion-activated sensors, that she says could allow objects to interact with people in more useful ways. So if you see someone waving their mobile

phone in the air and turning around in a circle looking for information about their surroundings, Maes is likely responsible. Before she joined the Media Lab, the MIT professor was a researcher with the university’s artificial intelligence lab. Maes has been called one of the “100 Americans to watch for” by Newsweek magazine and a member of the Cyber-Elite — the top 50 technological pioneers of the high-tech world — by Time magazine, and the World Economic Forum called her a “Global Leader for Tomorrow.”

(Mathew Ingram)

Mike McCue, CEO of Flipboard

Sometimes someone stumbles onto an idea that makes so much sense, it becomes a touchstone for an industry. That seems to be happening with Flipboard, the personalized social magazine for the iPad that formats articles and photos into a beautiful experience that encourages content consumption. After launching to crushing demand, the app has stayed in the App Store’s top 50. The company doesn’t share user numbers, but CEO Mike McCue says readers are incredibly active, treating Flipboard more like a browser rather than a service. As an indicator, he said when the company recently launched an update to its app, 60 percent of the userbase installed it within four days.

Flipboard humanizes the feeds and algorithms that many of us depend on in our information-overloaded state. Now publishers and aggregators everywhere, including Yahoo and Twitter, are reformatting their presentation for touch-screen tablets to be visually evocative and unobtrusively personalized, and “the Flipboard for [name your sector]” has become a helpful metaphor. Flipboard’s future plans, McCue says, include making deals with publishers to show full versions of their content, improving layout and design, and incorporating relevancy from Ellerdale (the real-time web discovery startup Flipboard bought before it launched). Unfortunately for non-iPad users, McCue says Flipboard won’t be moving to any other platforms any time soon.

(Liz Gannes)

Ruth Milkman, Chief, FCC Wireless Telecommunications Bureau

As the head of the Federal Communications Commissions Wireless Bureau, Milkman oversees pretty much everything from too-high early termination fees to the actual auctioning of spectrum. Given that the FCC has essentially given up on wired broadband competition and is putting all its eggs in the mobile connectivity basket, Milkman has become a huge player in telecommunications regulation. She also served on FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski’s transition team, so she’s in tight with her boss at the agency. With up to 500 MHz of new spectrum supposed to come online in the next 10 years, some of that pretty contentious, as well as the growing power that mobile operators have over both consumers and developers Milkman’s name is often behind influential FCC recommendations or reports that will affect the technology industry, including that of network neutrality for wireless networks. So while last year we pinned our hopes on Genachowski for influencing the space, when it comes time to implement some of the plans he proposed, Milkman is going to be the one that makes them happen.

(Stacey Higginbotham)

Doug VanDagens, Director, Ford Connected Service Solutions

Mobile applications are quickly expanding beyond phones into a variety of different devices and platforms, and nobody knows that better than Doug VanDagens. As director of Ford Connected Service Solutions, VanDagens oversees a 40-person team that has teamed with Nuance Communications to develop and deploy Ford SYNC, an agnostic software platform that connects with Bluetooth-enabled phones. SYNC launched in 2007, and is now installed on 70 percent of all Ford vehicles sold; the platform will launch in Europe and Asia-Pacific next year with the 2012 Focus.

Sync emerged as a way for drivers to operate both their phones and in-dash features via voice, but the platform was recently integrated with Google Maps, giving users a way to call up a route on their phones and beam the info to the SYNC system once they’re behind the wheel. Ford is creating a new mobile application developer network and has developed AppLink, a downloadable software upgrade that will connect Sync to popular smartphone applications. Manufacturers such as BMW and General Motors have followed Ford’s lead as the automotive industry embraces mobile technologies and applications. Ford is moving aggressively to build on its momentum with Sync, which means that VanDagens will be a key executive in a segment that is just beginning to mature.

(Colin Gibbs)

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