A few staggering statistics regarding mobile technology:

  • Vendors shipped 488 million smartphones in 2011, compared to 415 million PCs.
  • More than 50% of U.S. mobile users own smartphones.
  • 20% of U.S. consumers buy via mobile devices.

What does this shift in technology mean for you and your dealership? Bob Dieterle, senior vice president and general manager of SmartOnline, a mobile technology company, weighs in on how consumers use mobile technology to interact with companies - and how companies can leverage the tools.

First, can you explain what mobile technology is all about?

Fifteen years ago, businesses were just starting to really use the Internet. Then, they improved their web sites by adding ecommerce. Now, consumers are moving toward mobile technologies as a way to get information and make purchases. Some projections show that in three years, 80% of the Internet access will be through a mobile device.

Bob Dieterle, senior vice president and general manager of SmartOnline, shares thoughts on how mobile technology is changing how businesses interact with customers.

Mobile technology revolves around two hand-held devices: feature phones and smart phones. Feature phones are the basic mobile devices for making calls, sending texts, taking photos and some Internet functionality. Smartphones are hand-held computers. Apple spearheaded smartphone technology when it introduced the iPhone in 2007. A smartphone has all the functionality of a feature phone. Plus, it offers a new way to engage with a company through mobile websites and applications, or "apps."

What is the difference between a mobile web site and a mobile application?

A mobile website is a version of a company's website that has been optimized for easier reading and viewing on smartphones. A mobile site does not duplicate every piece of content on the website, only that content that fits mobile reading, such as shorter news items. A mobile website also reformats the look of the main website, so the entire page and tabs are visible on a mobile screen.

You can tell the difference if you go to a website and you can't see the entire page in the screen. You may have to "pinch," zoom or scroll to read it. It requires a bit of meandering. Seventy percent of companies today don't have mobile websites. It's a big growth area.

The other type of technology is the app. Today, there are hundreds of thousands of mobile apps. People spend 10% more time using apps over just browsing the Internet. Some apps charge a fee to download, but many are free.

What are some apps rural lifestyle dealers should check out?

News organizations have done a good job of "push" technologies to send news through "sound bites." I have the CNN app, but very rarely access it. Instead, the app sends me news headlines. Many times those headlines are all I need to know. Or, if I do need to know more, I tap the icon to read the larger story.

Banks, credit card companies and others have innovative apps that extend web site functionality. For instance, I can set up budgets for spending categories on the American Express web site. Then, the American Express app alerts me when I'm over budget.

Mint is another financial site that allows you to tie all your financial accounts into one big checkbook. The mobile app lets you view transactions and check budgets when you're out.

GPS apps can be very useful for dealership employees making on-farm deliveries.

Evernote and Dropbox allow you to access notes and documents on multiple devices, for example on your computer when you're in your office and on your smartphone when you're out.

Weather apps are very popular. I have a National Weather Service app, but mostly I turn to the weather app from my local TV station.

Foursquare is an interesting application for loyalty programs. Consumers "check in" when they visit your business. The business could then reward frequent customers with discounts.

Square might offer dealerships some opportunities. This app, along with a small device that plugs into the smartphone, allows you to process credit card transactions.

And, social media, like Facebook, make great use of apps.

Dream app in action

Editor's note: Dieterle is a rural lifestyler, who owns six acres near Durham, N.C. Here's an excerpt from his blog post about his John Deere lawn tractor and his vision for what a mobile application could do:

"All I am asking for is when I tap my John Deere owner's app icon I get asked "What do I want to do today?" After I put in "oil change" it comes back with a part number for the filter I need; the ability to purchase it online; or to use the GPS to find a dealer close by for me to call and see if the part is in stock; an interactive schematic of my engine; how-to video resources; maybe even an in-app purchase option to view a professional how-to video directly from John Deere? I can then hit a button that I completed the oil change, which the app time stamps and stores as a record."

View the original post.

What about sales. How can an app lead to a sale?

Companies are just starting to think of cool ways to use apps to improve brand loyalty and engagement. Amazon has won my loyalty through its mobile application. I was in Wal-Mart last Christmas, getting ready to purchase "Guitar Hero" for my son. The game costs $199. I had already downloaded the Amazon app for checking prices, so I used my smartphone to scan the bar code on the box. It showed that Amazon had the same game for $100 less. Two taps on my smart phone later and I had placed my order. I walked out of the store saving $100 and didn't have to wait in line.

I'm organizing my whole life around apps. It's about speed and getting exactly what I need, at a time that's convenient for me.

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