LIVE FROM CTIA 13, LAS VEGAS: Technology investor and actor Ashton Kutcher predicted a large-scale shift to Wi-Fi-enabled VoIP and data services – a move that will put huge pressure on operators – and questioned Facebook’s potential to evolve on mobile.
“There may be some new technologies that come in and completely replace [cellular], the same way that ethernet replaced data across the phone line,” Kutcher said during a wide-ranging discussion at CTIA.
While the US has unlimited data plans, plentiful WiFi and low prices due to competition, Kutcher said he realised the limitations of mobile networks when travelling in Europe.
“I got to feel what it’s like to be a consumer that’s worried about the amount of data that they’re consuming and is worried about making a phone call, and doesn’t want to make a phone call because it’s going to cost money,” he said.
Turning to VoIP-enabled services such as Skype and Viber, Kutcher realised how powerful they could be: “I think people are going to start looking at cellular and having that same feeling that ‘I’m not getting an experience that I should get, I want to get and deserve to get’. And if Apple wanted to turn on a unified hotspot, I don’t know that I would need a mobile carrier, and I think that network would get better and better very, very fast.”
“I think it would be crazy for major carriers to not go and try to buy those companies and overspend knowing that the market’s going to move there,” he added.
While generally being positive about Facebook — comparing it to modern day religion in building trust and praising its approach to advertising — he said it will be difficult for the social network to progress in mobile as other platforms are better at providing certain services.
“In some ways, it’s going to be hard to be brilliant at mobile for Facebook because it’s a little bit of a closed-wall platform once you’re on Facebook as a mobile application,” he noted, adding that a better approach for the company would be to provide external components such as Instagram.
Turning to Twitter, Kutcher said his experience of the service has changed for the worse: “My experience of Twitter has changed for me pretty drastically. The media kind of fucked it up. It’s a lot of people selling shit I don’t want,” he said.
“The way I use Twitter has become more limited. It felt like the democratisation of media. Now it just feels like the media again.”
However, he said Twitter has real potential as a platform to support intelligent mobile objects — for example tweeting a user when a bus is due or to tell them their coffee is ready.
Discussing his current technology investments, Kutcher said: “They have to be mobile. You can’t be a consumer-facing technology right now and not be mobile.”
However, he said a “mobile-first” approach isn’t necessarily a must, due to app discovery not yet being mature enough and having to consider how mobile services play across desktop and the web: “HTML5 is still a really important layer in pushing lightweight virtual content through mobile,” he said.