>play Digital Media Conference to Explore the Mobile-First Economy

Tens of millions of people keep their smartphones within reach 24 hours a day, and tens of millions more will soon join them—carrying the Internet in their pockets for the first time.

This explosion of smartphones has profound implications for businesses and will be the focus of >play 2012: Think Mobile First on Oct. 27 at the Haas School. A sell-out crowd of 500 industry leaders, entrepreneurs, and students is again expected for the annual student-run digital media conference.

“By 2016, a billion people will have smartphones—many of them in countries where most people don’t have access to computers,” says Zubin Desai, MBA 13, marketing co-chair for >play.  “For a long time, many companies saw mobile as an afterthought. They need to make mobile the core part of their business plan.”

This year, for the first time, students have organized a pre-conference sneak-peek and networking event, scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 26, at Eventbrite’s San Francisco offices. It will feature Eventbrite co-founders Kevin and Julia Hartz. Tickets for the networking event are available at play-pre-event.eventbrite.com.

In another first, organizers this year have dispensed with printed programs completely, going all-digital with the help of a customized app provided by San Francisco firm DoubleDutch.

"This is a digital conference and yet we've always handed out printed programs," says marketing co-chair Mohit Bhargava, MBA 13. "This year we've gone all digital and we're working with DoubleDutch to create a state-of-the-art digital program which will allow attendees to interact with not only each other, but with presenters and companies."

Box CEO Aaron Levie, who launched the cloud storage and collaboration company from his dorm room with CFO Dylan Smith in 2005, will give a keynote speech. Box now has more than 11 million users, and is valued at between $1.2 and $1.5 billion, according to a recent Reuters report.

The conference will begin with a rocket-pitch session, where sponsors will pitch the audience on their latest digital media technology: apps, games, hardware, and social media innovations. Attendees can browse the expo to learn more about the products and companies throughout the day.

Six panel sessions include discussions on gamification, the next generation of e-commerce and mobile payments, the ways that companies are collecting and using data, the future of TV and of digital music, and cloud collaboration via mobile.

Other highlights include a networking lunch, career fair, and afternoon session of >play talks—modeled on TED talks.

The >play conference is organized by the Haas-based Berkeley Digital Media and Entertainment Club. Discount tickets are available through Oct. 1: $25 for students; $39 for Haas alumni and faculty; and $69 for professionals. To register, visit play2012.eventbrite.com. For conference details, visit playconference.net.