Do we need to reinvent mobile?
Last weekend I found myself staring at a totally blank iPhone.
Through the process of re-installing apps and changing all the settings, I made a conscious decision to limit what was possible on my mobile.
I can’t access my work email, only my calendar. I have no social apps – if I’m really bored and want to check Twitter or Google+, I can always use the web interface. The only news app I have is FT, and that won out mainly because I like the idea of web-apps, and they’ve nailed it.
It is, on the face of it, a pretty boring iPhone. Only one screen of icons.
At the end of this process I realised that mobile is completely broken. I don’t believe this is the best we can do with ultra-portable, super-powerful, convergent technology.
Mobile requires reinvention.
There’s a lot more that I wish mobile could do, but to do those things currently requires more effort. Which seems counterintuitive.
There’s a few simple things mobile should do for me:
- Deliver the incoming information that’s relevant to me when and where I am.
- Make it easy to achieve any task I might come across while mobile.
- Access any information I need, in an interface that suits when and where I am.
- Allow me to carry less stuff.
- Be aware of where I am, and communicate with other devices to adapt to that location.
I know that current technology can do a lot of these things. But it always seems to do it by increasing the “technological friction” – the amount of interaction and engagement that is required of me. Logically, this friction should be reduced.
The current obsession with the iPhone5 launch date, with Google’s acquisition of Motorola, the rise of tablets and the demise of desktops is actually obscuring the view of what could be possible in mobile. If we move beyond handsets, if we move beyond shrunken laptops, there’s a bunch of interfaces and technology that can and should be happening right now.
One problem is that the current technology actually looks amazing. It’s hard not hold an iPhone 4 or Galaxy S-II and not think that the future is already here. These devices evolved out of what mobile phones traditionally looked like. Yet how we use them is completely different. As the technology got better, and the role of actually make phone calls became less important, all we really did was slowly make the screen bigger and better.
But the key problem is actually how we engage with mobile. Jawbone’s CEO Hosain Rahman talks about “inescapable engagement” through technology. I like this. Because it acknowledges that at the moment we’re at a point where technology, particularly mobile, offers us “inescapable distraction”.
So how do we get there? I think there’s three things that mobile needs to become.
- A better filter. Based on where and when I am, my mobile should feed me information. But it doesn’t need to feed me everything. It doesn’t need to tell me about a work email while I’m at the beach, but it does need to tell me that it’s about to rain.
- More cloudy. iCloud may (eventually) give us streaming music from the cloud. But there’s a lot more we can currently do that’s not happening. From a work perspective, I should be able to access any set of business data, pull it up and visualise it immediately. From a consumer perspective, I should be able to use a private cloud when I’m in a certain store that gives me access to a wealth of relevant data that a shop assistant doesn’t know (if you can find one).
- Transactional. When NFC finally arrives the idea of a phone being a transactional device will hopefully become mainstream. But beyond financial transactions, my phone should automatically check in or check out for me. Check-in when I arrive at an airport or hotel, check-out when it knows I need some rest or that I’m out at a restaurant.
I think we’ll get to an era of inescapable engagement. But I think with a bit of effort we could get there a lot sooner. And then I’ll get excited about mobile again.
- August 2011