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Telefonica’s Simon Birkenhead warns marketers to stop getting obsessed with the next ‘it’ device

Simon Birkenhead, director of global ad sales at Telefonica, has urged marketers to stop getting distracted with the latest devices, admitting that although lots of companies will be showing off new gadgets at Mobile World Congress this week, “the reality is they are not going to look any more different to the ones from the year before.”

Speaking at Technology for Marketers & Advertisers conference, he explained: “The iPhone, born in 2007, doesn’t look too different today from what it did seven years ago. The iPad was born in 1993, it was called the Apple Newton. That was the first iPad. The design has changed a bit, it’s a bit more ‘gadgety’ but the concept hasn’t really changed that much.”

Instead marketeers should be looking at what people are using now and understand how it might develop and what they can offer within that changing space.

“Don’t get obsessed with the latest technology,” Birkenhead urged, using Google Glass as an example of a device that has been lauded in the past year but that very few people might have or will get.

“Think about what people have got now and how they are going to evolve how they are using those things, rather than getting obsessed with what the next ‘new’ device is.”

He instead said that there are “massive innovations” around the sim card, emphasising that it is not the device that the sim card is in but what the card itself can enable.

“It’s the Internet of Things and this will have massive implications for the way we live our lives and how companies and marketers engage with us,” he said, referring to Google’s recent $3.2bn purchase of Nest, which Birkenhead described as “essentially a thermostat”.

“They’ve [Google] recognised the future. An internet enabled thermostat is just an entry point into the home of the future where everything is connected, and you can control your whole home from your smartphone.”

He revealed how Telefonica is working in this space, highlighting the €1.8bn deal with the UK government for an initiate called Smart Metering. He said that by 2020, a sim card will have been put into every single gas and electricity meter in the UK to enable energy usage to be sent directly to a supplier, but to also give customers the data to make smarter decisions about their energy usage.

Birkenhead also explained Telefonica's work in the auto sector – citing figures that suggest within eight years there will be 700 million connected cars in the world – and what it is doing in Santander, Spain. There, the mobile giant is working with the local government on a pilot scheme to put 12,000 sim cards in various points around the city.

“In parking spaces,to allow people to use an app to check where the nearest space is, and in devices to measure the air quality, and in traffic sensors so that if there is bad traffic the signals can be changed to make travelling easier."

“This is the future of mobile,” he said. “And there are plenty of opportunities for marketers to take advantage of these innovations.”

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