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Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Is Apple making us more mobile?

THE MOBILE BUZZ AND THE FUTURE OF MOBILITY

The wireless industry has been around 20 years, and people have found the industry to be somewhat complex. A recent article in the Harvard Business Review said, “In the consumer electronics category, customers of mobile phone services were among the most dissatisfied. Pricing plans and services were too confusing. Contracts were restrictive. Service among some carriers was unpredictable. Early attempts to offer video proved more frustrating than compelling.”

Carriers didn’t make it easy in the past. This will change. Consumers can’t wait to get their hands on devices and applications that make it easy to surf, listen and watch media. The future phone will be lesser of a phone in the future; smart phones are growing into mobile devices that let us do things that still are keeping us at our office desks. The post-PC era is looming behind the corner.

The promise of smarter mobility has been around for three to five years (3G), but the real move is starting to happen now (Web 2.0 convergence). We can build a team come to talks with the carriers from a different perspective. Finland is a mobile super power. Apple is in the headlines for some times to come, but there is plenty of undone work waiting for us.

DESIGN, MULTITOUCH AND MEDIA

The upcoming Apple iPhone will certainly have a huge impact on cell phone design. Experts are betting it will affect the future of mobile video even more. Will the combination of YouTube and the iPhone stifle video development?

I’ve been following the media and blogosphere buzz around iPhone for a year. The Nokia N95 is a great smart phone with more advanced alternatives and features for the user. Apple plays another game. They are introducing an easy to use smart phone to the US market and their message is reaching the consumers. There hasn’t been a product launch like this in the world before.

The iPhone launch is a show case of attention and experience economy roll-out that mobilizes traditional media and the blogosphere to spread the word around the world. The iPhone will debut on June 29th. Its smooth operation and glossy touch screen will certainly have a deep impact on future cell phone and smart phone design.

“The iPhone is revolutionary; it’s flawed. It’s substance; it’s style. It does things no phone has ever done before; it lacks features found even on the most basic phones,” writes the New York Times blogger David Pogue. It isn’t the final solution but it certainly opens up numerous new avenues for those who like to build a perfect mobile communications world.

The mobile 2.0 job isn’t over. Jobs started a few important developments. Customers are getting more in the focus and “the media becomes a message” in smart phones. Nevertheless, this is just the beginning. The best way to make it more valuable is to encourage outside developers to create new uses for it, and Apple has indicated that they are welcoming Web-based applications geared to their new device.

Nokia has announced its new corporate values. Great news, in my opinion, the mobile industry is opening up at many fronts at the same time. There is a lot of work waiting for those able to go for it. All the companies have entered into a new race for the global mobile 2.0. Steven Jobs did call it the post-PC era at the Wall Street Journal “All things digital” conference.

THE TRADITIONAL ENGINEERING APPROACH

There are great mobile phone designers and producers from Finland to South Korea, China to India. USA has been much more Internet centric. Motorola is in trouble. The Silicon Valley start-ups have been designing Web 2.0 and Social Media applications and platforms. Mobility hasn’t been a big issue on the new continent. Things are about to change.

Apple announced June 21 that the iPhone would offer easy access to YouTube videos, thanks to a dedicated YouTube button on the phone's home screen. The YouTube button will take users to a custom page where they can save their favorite videos and presumably search for other videos that interest them. Software enabled mobile add-ons, applications and services are becoming a growth industry.

Mobile video, particularly, has largely been behind a wall. We are now experiencing the first attempts to tear down that wall. The limited and clumsy accesses most consumers have to news, sports and entertainment on traditional cell phones want change over night, but there is a clear shift towards a new attitude in the industry.

Visual Radio and Mobile TV are predicted future growth areas for mobile phones. This development is stronger in Asia, Japan, China and India than in Europe. Europe being strong in 3G network development, but I think that the convergence of Internet and Mobility will be a huge challenge for mobile software developers and new application designers in the coming years.

CONVERGENCE OF MOBILE AND WEB 2.0 LEADS TO POST-PC ERA

My guess is there will not be a separate Mobile Internet. Instead, we can expect intelligent combinations of mobility and web 2.0 applications. The iPhone OS X isn’t open for outside software developers. However, independent developers can use Ajax to create add-ons to the iPhone.

Nokia’s position as the leading global mobile phone’s manufacturer isn’t challenged yet by Apple’s iPhone. The goal for one per cent of the market isn’t a big deal. The traditional players can stay calm until the iPhone frenzy becomes a global phenomenon. That will not happen over night. It will take years. Will it ever happen?

There are soon three billion mobile phones on the earth and even 10 million Apple smart phones will not make a big difference. However, we will see impacts on future design and software development. Steven Jobs predicted the beginning of the post-PC era with the introduction of iPhone and future smart phones. This race has started. Destination defined, speed unknown.

The PC will not drop dead in front of us in the beginning of July 2007. However, more and more services that we used to see on the Internet only are rolling over to mobile devices. I can foresee a strong evolution of software enabled mobile services. The needs are all around us. I certainly have ideas about how to make my mobility smarter.

AT&T's data plans for the iPhone are announced at the June 29th launch. It remains to be seen if a data plan will be required for basic phone use. The iPhone will have built-in Wi-Fi, but most industry experts are betting that the phone will require a data plan.

MEDIA IS THE MESSAGE

Steven P. Jobs, the chief executive of Apple, is already changing the perception of the mobile phone, from a quick way to call a friend to a hip, media-friendly device. In doing so, he has forced mobile phone and Hollywood executives to react by chasing hungrily after the newest thing. The content producers are finally waking-up. Consumers are willing to spend money when the use is getting easier, faster and smarter.

Wireless carriers now seem more willing to listen to their mobile phone partners’ advice. For years, mobile phone carriers like AT&T, Verizon Wireless and Sprint have closely controlled what cellphone users’ watch, when they watch it, and on what kind of screen they watch it. They are figuring out that it is better to have them online.

The networks did the same with television before new technologies loosened their grip. Consumers demand more and better access to media and care less about how they get it. Many in Hollywood and Silicon Valley hope the iPhone’s multimedia features will make it easier for any mobile-crazed consumer to do the same things they do on the Web: watch their favorite television shows, download maps, send e-mail messages to friends and swap videos.

APPLICATIONS ON THE MOVE - WI-FI, WIMAX, 3G, MOBILE TV

In what is the beginning of many attempts to make the cellphone more Internet-friendly, Apple has designed its own application so consumers can receive YouTube videos through a Wi-Fi network.

Any device that replicates the Web experience online is good for the entire industry. It will help content producers and suppliers (Hollywood, YouTube, Networks, Disney, Sony, etc.) reach a mass audience. Communications companies know they have to adapt or risk missing the moving train.

All the competitors, who are quick to point out that the iPhone has limitations, might agree that it will nudge resistant wireless carriers to pay more attention to their customers’ wishes. A booming flow of customer oriented content will require new applications on top of the closed operating systems.

Filmmakers are not going to be happy having their films downloaded to cell phones with poor quality. The beauty of iPhone, it’s simple and it looks good. Half the people who have these fancy cell phones don’t know how to use them.

According to test reports, “iPhone e-mail is fantastic. Incoming messages are fully formatted, complete with graphics; you can even open (but not edit) Word, Excel and PDF documents. The Web browser, though, is the real dazzler. This isn’t some stripped-down, claustrophobic My First Cellphone Browser; you get full Web layouts, fonts and all, shrunk to fit the screen. You scroll with a fingertip — much faster than scroll bars. You can double-tap to enlarge a block of text for reading, or rotate the screen 90 degrees, which rotates and magnifies the image to fill the wider view.”

What does this mean for Finnish software designers? I don’t think we need to run for these features and copy them, but it will be so much easier to sit down and discuss with operators (carriers) about future applications and services. The carriers and the mobile industry are more willing to listen.

Innovators, designers and trend setters are well received by those who want to make money with mobile 2.0. I’ve been looking and reading the weak signals of mobility change and the buzz of web 2.0 and social media since the emergence. There was a time when I felt sceptic about the mobile future. The outlook was that the Internet becomes mobile and smart phones will be marginal devices that we use while not really connected to the Internet. This is changing now and the speed is more rapid than I expected only a few months ago.

The iPhone is also an iPod; it digests in music, videos and photos from a Mac or Windows PC. They say that Photos, movies and even YouTube videos look spectacular on the bright 3.5-inch very-high-resolution screen. The resolution is twice compared to a computer display, I got somewhere.

The Google Maps module lets you view street maps or aerial photos for any address. It can provide driving directions, too. It’s not real GPS. “The iPhone is amazing. But no, it’s not perfect.” The media says. The security of the iPhone e-mail format is alarming; there is no built-in firewall either.

WHAT DID IT COST TO DEVELOP THE IPHONE?

The iPhone R&D cost is estimated to100 million dollars. They started from scratch at Apple. American News reports are expecting that the iPhone will finally bring the much anticipated mobile revolution to the U.S. Apple is already working hard at improving this first version of the iPhone. Motorola announced some time ago (2006) that they will overtake Nokia in 1 000 days. The challenge from US didn’t come from a traditional phone maker, Motorola. It was someone from nowhere, unfamiliar to the leading mobile phone manufacturers, not unknown as a company or a brand but as a smart phone producer.

The Google Maps program shows, the results of a separate client application created for the iPhone can be spectacular. Apple also is taking the unusual accounting step of not logging the revenues of iPhones all at once, but taking it over the length of the contract: it says this will enable it to keep improving the software and adding new applications. So the iPhone you buy now may have many more features and services by the end of your contract. This means continuous product development.

The challenge is to make Mobile 2.0 attractive on a global scale. There are plenty of partners around the globe.

I’m not ignoring all the other great developments in the field of mobility, but Apple is the Buzz of the day. Apple Computer Finland was my first market research assignment 1981 when we started CIS – Corporate Information Systems. We used to work with Apple Computers until 1995 and even had a NeXT computer in France and switched to PC’s 1995.

Apple, Siemens, Hewlett-Packard, Nokia…are all great companies. I’ve been working with these companies at different stages of my working history. They have different corporate cultures and management styles. Those big companies are just a few of the future mobile R&D partners. The post-PC movement will take us to a long journey towards a new mobile fantasy world where computing is easy and low-cost everywhere.

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