Mobile Madness Motor City: Highlights and Takeaways

Startup founders, industry leaders, investors, and a high number of young, engaged Detroiters crowded into the auditorium at the Compuware Building downtown last Thursday for Mobile Madness Motor City, Xconomy’s first mobile technology event in Detroit. We’ve held Mobile Madness events to great success in other cities across the Xconomy network, and Detroit was no different. We’d like to officially thank our event host and sponsors—Compuware, the Kauffman Foundation, and Quicken Loans—as well as event partners TechTown, Bizdom, Ann Arbor SPARK, the Mobile Technology Association of Michigan, MichBio, and Mobile Monday Michigan, without whom we couldn’t have pulled off such a successful event.

We packed a lot of information into a half day forum. Michipreneur curated a Storify link dedicated to the event and there were also tons of great tweets under the #detmobile hashtag. Our speakers covered connected cars, apps strategy, mobile enterprise, Detroit’s role in building mobile technology, and much more. I picked a few highlights and takeaways to summarize below to give readers an idea of what they missed. Let us know in the comments what your favorite moment was.

Quote of the day: Let’s face it, the Detroit tech community secretly kind of loves to tweak that giant living in the hillside otherwise known as Silicon Valley. Josh Linker, ePrize founder, managing partner of Detroit Venture Partners, and Detroit booster extraordinaire drew applause early on in the event with this line: Detroiters’ grit can be “the fuel that allows us to put those soft folks in Silicon Valley down for the count.” You hear that, Mountain View? Shots fired!

Got a cool idea for an app? That’s not enough. The apps strategy panel, featuring Detroit Labs‘ Paul Glomski, jacAPPS‘ Paul Jacobs, ePrize‘s Sagar Parvataneni, Quicken Loans’ Tricia Cervenan, and moderator Bill Wagner of SRT Solutions, was full of blunt but very helpful advice for would-be app developers. Don’t just take your website, turn it into an app, and throw it up on an app store, Glomski cautioned. Your app should have a purpose, a business case, and, above all, a great user interface. Jacobs said the worst apps his company has developed are the ones with too much going on; developers would do better to really understand what the consumer wants and then build an app that’s a joy to use. As
much as we tend to romanticize the idea of the kid who builds the next Instagram in his parents’ basement, Parvataneni said the fact of the matter is that without a multi-thousand-dollar marketing budget, developers are in a tight spot because getting people to know your app exists is a big challenge. Cervenan agreed and said it’s important to have the company name and what the app does in the title. “It has to be easy—if I have to tell you how to use it, then I haven’t done my job,” she added.

The future of lithium-ion batteries is … consumer electronics? Ann Marie Sastry, president and CEO of Sakti3, an advanced battery manufacturer that has done a lot of work for the auto industry, seemed to suggest in her presentation that consumer electronics are the next frontier for the rechargeable battery technology currently being used in cars. Battery cells inside consumer electronics essentially have the same technology as those in vehicles, and Sastry estimates that by 2020, consumers will own more than 1 billion devices, all of them needing a better way to store energy. (In aggregate, she said, it represents a “decabillion dollar market.”) And it’s not just the first-world problem of wanting your iPhone to hold its charge during a night out on the town. In emerging economies like India, Brazil, and China, Sastry said. the ability to walk away from the power supply—to sustain power drawn off the grid for increasingly longer amounts of time—enables more people to enter the middle class. Although Sastry didn’t come right out and say that Sakti3 would be shifting its focus exclusively to consumer electronics, it was clear that the company plans to pursue the market.

The once-secretive auto industry is now prioritizing open technology platforms. We’ll have more about this tomorrow in our report from the 2013 North American International Auto Show, but there’s a sea change under way in the auto industry as companies scramble to offer consumers the technological features they demand. One by one, the big auto manufacturers are embracing outside innovation and open technology platforms, some going so far as to rebrand themselves software companies on wheels. Our connected cars panel discussion featured GM’s Greg Ross, Roximity‘s Daniel Newman, and Livio‘s Joey Grover, with Intel’s Joel Hoffman moderating. Hoffman said the change began when car companies started attending and demonstrating new products in earnest at the annual Consumer Electronics Show. Ross says all the auto manufacturers are interested in adding value to their products through apps and other software enhancements, but he told another story that illustrated the need for car companies to adapt. A group of Chevy Volt owners got together independently and created a website to share information and compare rates of efficiency, sort of a Volt geeks forum. Now, Ross said, 20 percent of all Volt owners engage with the site, which has also spawned an app. “That’s not something we anticipated when we designed the car,” he added.

But beware—too much information and connectivity isn’t good either. Sheryl Connelly, Ford’s head of global trends, said in her presentation that yes, we’re connected like never before, but because of that we never truly leave the office, which is leading to something called time poverty. We’re addicted to information and we’re overloaded with it, and the new coolest kid on the block isn’t the one with the most expensive toys, but the one who is the best, most trusted curator of all that information coming at us. So take time to unplug, she advised. Connect in real life, too. There’s no point in having access to so much information if it’s taking you away from your friends and family.

Sarah Schmid Stevenson is the editor of Xconomy Detroit/Ann Arbor. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or Follow @XconomyDET_AA

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