Cell phone (US). Handy (Germany). Mobile phone (UK).  Mobile device? (Global).

Next time you leave your house, apartment, factory, college or office, take a look at the people on the street. Many of them will be talking. But not many to each other. They may also be reading. But not newspapers. Or typing. But not on giant PC keyboards. Aargh! Quick: better check your smartphone is safely in your inside pocket and, crucially, switched on. Breathe. Calm. It’s OK: you’re connected to the global cellular/mobile internet life support system. Phew.

How these shiny gadgets have come to dominate our lives. But do they liberate us or enslave us?  How do you feel when you lose yours? Or just leave it at home? Or drop it down the toilet? (sorry-horrible image). Even synchronisation problems are enough to induce a state of near-unbearable frustration and panic in many of us.

On the positive side, how long before your contract expires and you can get your hands on a nice new one? Or until you can afford to buy one? Which do you have your eye on? Have you looked online at the goodies that might be within your reach? Have you discussed with your friends? On Facebook? Twitter? LinkedIn? Read any reviews yet?

Yet despite all this excitement and the strong, positive relationships we have with our ‘phones’, I would bet that virtually no one unboxes their new ‘smartphone’ (how long will that term last I wonder?) in anticipation of viewing ads on it.

But that, of course, is exactly what ‘mobile marketers’ are plotting and in many cases successfully doing. And increasingly, all marketers need to focus time and budget on the opportunities mobile offers. It’s their job. Too many people are spending too much time looking at these little screens for mobile to be ignored. The challenge, of course, is to add value and enhance the user’s life, creating positive experiences/ interactions around the brand.

Direct marketers used to claim they owned ‘personal one-to-one marketing, allowing precise targeting and immediate, measurable response’. But they were talking about direct mail, direct response print ads and telephone marketing. If they only knew it, they just needed to equip each prospect/customer with an iPhone 4, a BlackBerry Torch, a Samsung Epic 4G or even a Motorola Droid X. I’m not saying it will be easy, but the opportunity is undeniable: these gadgets are individual, always on and, err… mobile. The smartphone is the most personal and powerful communication device mankind has yet invented.

American/Canadian author William Gibson allegedly said: “The future’s already here. It’s just not evenly distributed.”  Some people have had cellular telephones since the ’70s. But now it’s really happening. For those who enjoy a good cliché: from now on, every year will be The Year of Mobile. As someone else once said:  We’ve only just begun…