How long will we be trapped in this mobile hell hole?

Now and again I just can’t take it. Now and again I do the mental equivalent of pressing pause and sit and examine myself.

This phrase — or words to the effect — run through my mind at these points :

“What the hell am I doing wasting my time with mobile?”

What a piece of rubbish this industry is. Why am I even bothering? I meet lots of entrepreneurs doing their best to crack the marketplace. Almost every one I meet has a decent, sound idea, that, in an ideal world, would work brilliantly.

Apply anything other than a cold, hard reality view of the mobile industry to most of the concepts I see, and it’ll all end in tears. The amount of companies and people I know who are struggling really annoys me. It annoys me no end.

In case you’re not entirely familiar with what’s going on at the coalface of mobile enterprise (and by that I mean ‘entrepreneurs’, not Fortune 500 companies), here’s an illustration with a made up idea.

‘Graham’ is 25 years old and he’s just quit a promising management consultancy role to follow his passion for mobile. He’s done his research. He’s realised that, in the UK, people like gardening. He’s found that £800 million is spent on plants each year (made up stat!) and that, even by the longest odds, if just 5% of that revenue could be switched to the mobile medium, that’d be a £40m/year market. Further, research indicates that a lot of people would like to order plants, seeds and various plant-related-gear on their mobiles, whilst they are, say, on the train, or in a meeting, or otherwise doing something else. Going to the garden centre to buy plants is ok; but often you just need some compost delivered so you can plant your daffodils.

Stay with me. Even further, he’s knocked-up another series of revenue streams to support e-commerce. First of all, his research indicates people will want to pay for premium video content of famous gardeners showing how to plant daffodils properly. And they’ll want specialised weather and calendar updates (integrated with your mobile calendar) to remind you when you cover up your Strawberries because of the frost.

And, what’s more, his research indicates people will also want to network with other gardeners in their area… and…

Great idea. Great concept. I don’t disagree with the premise. I’m sure some gardeners would use a service like this. But unfortunately, this kind of entrepreneurialism, irrespective of the actual realities, is doomed. It’s Class-F (“F—ed”) before it’s even begun. That’s because ‘Graham’ has made the mistake of basing his concept around a flawed belief in the mobile industry. He’s assuming, or hoping, or simply entirely misguided that the mobile industry is similar to, for example, the PC/internet industry. And it clearly, clearly isn’t. I say ‘clearly’. I sometimes have rather headed conversations with many a budding entrepreneur about the industry. Mostly, appear to be dumbfounded by hearing me telling them ‘not to bother’.

“You’re supposed to be our ultimate fan,” one chap told me after a brusing encounter with me and my laws of reality, “It even says it on your site, that you’re a fan of entrepreneurs. Won’t you even write something about our company?”

“I can do,” I respond, “By all means, but that doesn’t change the fact your concept is good but the market is shite. No one will buy anything from you. I really don’t want you to lose any more money.”

It’s been said — by someone, I can’t recall — that being an entrepreneur is about being naieve, i.e. If you actually knew how difficult it might be, you wouldn’t bother. Most of us don’t. But now and again, a chap or chappess wakes up one morning, sticks a door horizontal on a pile of bricks in his garage and sets up Amazon.

And thank the Capitalist Dieties that he or she does. The world thrives on innovation. Without innovation we’d still be trying to get those square wheels to work. Almost every industry you can name thrives on innovation too. Everyone benefits. It’s nigh on exactly as dependable as the laws of physics.

But — and this, I know, a sweeping statement — generally, most innovation in mobile never actually gets past the starting block.

Because it’s a closed world.

We are all essentially still using devices that can phone other people or send text messages on. In, what, 15 years worth of innovation, we’ve got nowhere.

Yeah, yeah, X billion people connected on GSM. Whoopee-do.

Its not a brilliant achievement. Stick on some rose-tinted glasses and yeah, isn’t it amazing that you can step off a plane in the Maldives and call someone back in London?

Well, no. You can do this, but it’ll cost you an arm and a leg.

Want to send 160 characters of text from your piece of shit device (currently in the Maldives) to another piece of shit device in Central London, United Kingdom? That’ll be a quid, please. Or 50p. Or similar.


Is this how far we’ve come?

I had GPRS years ago. I was checking my emails, on an admittedly snails-pace GPRS connection, via infra-red, back in 1999. It was crap, but it *worked*. It did, actually work. I could get my emails or instant message in the middle of a field.

So fast forward ALMOST ten years and what? Only last week I posted an article delighting in my disbelief that mobile ‘broadband’ (“Bollocks”) does, actually work. For almost 8 hours straight, I surfed away on 3 without interruption.

Ten sodding years that’s taken.

Bill Gates came along on March 24th, 1999, with “Business @ The Speed of Thought” in which, if memory serves, he wrote about being able to do rather wicked things with mobile in the future. Like, for example, being able to put out a live auction for a taxi from Oxford Street, London, to Heathrow Airport and, within 2 minutes, get back a range of bids from interested suppliers. Yeah, forget that. Orange, one of the UK’s biggest mobile operators have only just got data. Vodafone, only recently. And o2 were kicking and screaming well into late 2007 before they got with the programme.

So what about being able to network with other gardeners on your mobile device? Or order some compost whilst sat aboard the 8.22 to London Liverpool Street?

Yeah, stuff that.

Screw that, with bells on. And a little cherry on top.

The sad reality for this mobile world of ours — at least, in the UK, Europe and the States, is that it’s decades away. Sodding decades.

Pick any one person of the street and they’ll tell you they phone people and they text people. If you’re really lucky, you’ll pick someone who’s actually ‘used Google’ on their mobile. Or, if you’re exceptionally lucky, you’ll find a teenager who’s used Facebook Mobile.

But anything else? No. Move along.

Did you say ‘innovation’? Was that you? GUARDS! Arrest that man!

Although my example with ‘Gardeners’ might not be relevant to many reading this, I’m willing to bet that, if you could properly conceive such a service, there would be demand. Demand for the concept.

There’s so much demand for ‘concept’, it’s causing a dull ache between my shoulders.

Last week I was stuck in the middle of Lakeside Shopping Centre waiting for the Apple Store chaps to configure a new Mac Pro. I had to lose myself for an hour. I wondered, as I walked along, if any shops in the shopping centre stocked a wicked semi-pro Canon Video Camera. I brought out my Nokia E90 and…… then I couldn’t be arsed.

What I really wanted to do was query the inventory of the shops in the centre. Then, visit the relevant ones. In the end I was reduced to popping into the shittest ‘Jessops’ camera shop to view the shittest range they could muster. No joy. Then off to House of Fraser’s technology department — appalling.

I’m willing to bet that if your mobile device offered such a seamless facility, you’d use it too. Especially when your wife, girlfriend or significant other is looking for ‘black trousers’ (that necessitates a visit into every sodding shop that might sell trousers — oh, look, that’s a nice bag..)

Would you like to go to the cinema? Shall we see what’s on?

Ok, let’s rephrase.

‘Would you like to go to the cinema? Ok, would you like to waste about 10 minutes whilst we see just how shit our mobile experience is?’

Try it right now. Take our your phone and try and establish what’s playing right now. Then book it. Within 60 seconds.

You can’t.

First of all, your phone is engineered to be just that. A sodding phone. To make 8k/sec voice calls. And then it’s been retrofitted with rubbish-but-it-works data facilities and the most abysmal interfaces you could ever dream of.

So, try and find the sodding web browser.

Open it and wait. Wait. Wait. YES THIS IS 3G. If you’re lucky, you’ll be on 3.5G. And you’re still bloody waiting. What, 10 seconds, 20 seconds before the thing has opened up. To all the monkeyboys reading with a fast device, swap to an LG please. Use an LG Chocolate and you’ll see how shit it all is.

Right you’ve now got the operator’s default homepage. Scroll and screw about to get the cursor to the search window. Pray that your operator has done a deal with Google and not Yahoo, so that your results will at least, make some sense.

Type in cinema listings. Or ’empire cinema’ or something.

Google’s got cinema listings down to a ‘t’ on the desktop. If you’re lucky enough to guess the correct wording then you can avail yourself of Google’s cinema listings.

If not, then you might be forced to sod about with the Odeon or Empire Cinemas home page. If you’ve got the patience of a saint, you can try using Odeon’s mobile booking service to book some tickets. Take ages.

A minute’s already gone past. I’ve lost patience.

“Let’s have a look in the local paper, it’ll be quicker.”

How should it work?

Pull up your mobile device. Click entertainment. Click cinemas. Get an immediate listing of the <i>available</i> showings (i.e. available, I don’t want to see the ones that are fully booked). Let me manipualte the list easily by location and film choice. Click book. Stick the entry into my purchases wallet and into my device diary. Opionally, let me ‘copy’ this to my friend who’s coming with me. Then prompt me for 50% off my popcorn if I buy a voucher now. Click. Bought it. And when I get to the cinema, I’ll wave my phone at the RFID panel to gain entry.

Now take the cinema technology and make it work for taxis. Piece of piss. Apply it to restaurant bookings. Same thing, only minor changes. Same with dry cleaning, hairdressers, doctors…

Why doesn’t this exist?

Well, I think it’s bollocks. It’s down to bollocks and lack of them. Spineless de-innovators.

Unfortunately the marketplace is ruled by a few mopolistic companies. Look at your handset manufacturers and your mobile operators. The lack of innovation is simply staggering.

It’s at this point that I come to a halt. If I’m ranting like this in front of a mobile operator, they’ll start giving me excuses about cell sites and how difficult it is to blah-de-blah. Indeed, one chap from a mobile operator was moaning about the fact they don’t know what to do next. Voice revenues and text revenues are declining, to the point that the more strategic amongst them are in a huge panic about how to deliver revenue in 5 years time.

This is why I’m still paying 40p a minute to call an 0800 ‘free’ number. Or why 0870 ‘national rate numbers’ aren’t part of my call bundle. Or why, out of bundle, I’m paying 12.5 pence per text.

Had operators being paying attention, they’d have seen the writing on the wall and developed an open framework to support entrepreneurial innovation in all sectors of the mobile industry. For instance, would you like to find out where my phone is? That’ll cost you, wholesale, 12p. Buy in bulk and it’ll cost you 12p. Or, speak to someone and you might be able to work out a deal. But, if you want to locate a phone, it’ll cost you more or less the price of a text message. Tons of entrepreneurs poured into the industry to try and make mobile location services work. But they couldn’t. There wasn’t a model that worked for those providing the money.

Want to capture 5% of the gardening industry on your mobile? Well, take a look. It’s a horrible world out there. Make an application for Symbian and it’ll work on most Nokias. But not LGs. Or Sony Ericssons. Or Windows Mobile. So, er triple your development budget. No wait, multiply it by 10.

Right, actually, did you say gardening? Well, aren’t they all over 35? At least? Ok, well they probably don’t know how to run an application on their phone. So… er… let’s close that busine…. No wait! We could do a mobile portal? Right, you know, you won’t need to worry about an application. They can just get it on their browser! Wicked!

Er. No. Because the experience is shite that you’ll spend all your marketing dollars getting them to your mobile site. Once. Then you’ll need to spend the same amount again, reminding them how to get to (or via the piece of shit handset browser they’re using.

What the hell went wrong?

Where did all the innovation go?

By hook or by crook, some companies are being successful. And that’s excellent. But there’s so much lacking. So many exciting, exciting opportunities that are yet to be realised.

I think my mistake with this industry — with SMS Text News — is trying to view your average Nokia in this light.

With a mobile device you should be able to:

– Get to your bank account screen in 5 seconds and transfer money around or send a note to your bank regarding a failed transaction.
– Be in New York yet be able to schedule flowers for mum to arrive the next day. Not have to specify her address or put in any banking details.
– Be talking to your friend and find out they’ve just read a great book and get a ‘I recommend you buy this’ link from them from Amazon. Simply click ‘yes’ and have the book delivered tomorrow.
– Schedule a British Gas visit to your house next week.
– Conduct instant messaging conversations with friends
– Find out if a friend or business contact is nearby with a pop-up notification
– Hunt for the best pizza place in North Beach, San Francisco, and get recommendations FIRST from your friends, then from others. Connect to the restaurant and book a table.
– Extend you hotel booking by another night, and query their inventory to see they’ve got a Suite with a jacuzzi available — and make a real-time offer since it’s after 10pm and get the room for an extra $50 over the rate you paid last night
– Travel the New York subway with the same global account that you use for London’s underground and Japan’s subway.
– Browse the photo gallery of your friend’s visit to Nigeria complete with google maps mashup.
– Buy some shares in BARR Plc after tasting Irn Bru for the first time.
– Commission some computer development work via whilst you’re having pizza in North Beach.
– Video conference with your two brothers. When you initiate the invite to conference, your machine tells you that Fraser is busy and has requested a 5 minute rain-check but Martin’s free now. So start the call, then 3 minutes later, Fraser joins in. And he real-time-mixes some video of his new Benz.
– Open a bid to the Mercedes dealers across the UK soliciting offers on a new S320 model. Check the ‘I’m interested in other offers’ button and forward your wife a solicitation that just came in from Bentley asking if you’d be interested in an older Continental GT they’re trying to shift. You get a 🙁 face back, full screen, from her. No need to prod further.
– That light in the hallway is still arsed. Get a guy to fix it. Ask the Marylebone community, crowd-source style, if anyone’s got some handyman recommendations. Pick the top guy in the results and read through his feedback. Query his diary and find that he’s only available on Wednesday. Re-query with the ’50 pound surcharge’ option checked and book a slot on Monday instead. That’s gone into your diary — and the wife’s, automatically.
– Listen to some Vivaldi while you’re doing this. Actually, who conducts the best Vivaldi pieces? Woosh. Query. Results. Listen for 30 seconds. Ok. Add this to my locker and take £.50 from my account. When I get in the car, Vivaldi’s at the top of the list ready to be played.

My mistake, I think, is to evaluate your N90s, your N82s, your LG Secrets, based on the above ideals. I need to get wit’da’programme.

I’ll stop now. It’s far too depressing.

Why don’t we have this now?

The technology exists. We can more or less do this on one’s desktop. We’re almost there with the desktop.

Saldy, we’re years, years and years away in the mobile industry.

Shining lights?

Well yes. There are some shining lights. Apple’s iPhone Application Store is leading the way there. Finally there’s an outlet for Graham and his Gardening idea. He can easily develop, deploy and monetise his offerings. What’s more, his audience can, thanks to Apple’s end-to-end deep thought, probably learn to use Graham’s service in a few moments.

But what of the LG users? The Samsung users? The Orange users…

I’ll stop there.

You just can’t think too much on this or it gets far too depressing to even comprehend how far away we are from this.

I just visited my parents the other week. When I arrived in the door, mum was sat showing my dad the Picasa Album of the SMS Text News Desert Island pictures. She was flicking through them. Like a pro.

There’s hope!

… if only everything was as good as it was for Tom Cruise in his movie, Minority Report!

By Ewan

Ewan is Founder and Editor of Mobile Industry Review. He writes about a wide variety of industry issues and is usually active on Twitter most days. You can read more about him or reach him with these details.

37 replies on “How long will we be trapped in this mobile hell hole?”

This is why the next 10 years will blow us away compared to the previous 10. We're at the beginning of the exponential curve of innovation in mobile. Sure you're pissed now, I think we all are, but it took a long time for the computer industry to get to where it is today. It took the internet a decade to get to where it is today and it's still not the best experience it can be.

Wow! Unfortunately, I must agree with most of this. Even alot of “positive thinking” doesn't really help. i like “Class-F” – I call that AB (advanced bullshit) at times…

Great Post…. God I can relate to all of it easily enough…

I know everything you say you want can be done now and a lot of it just depends on 'Where you are now' …. GPS is ok if you're outside and the sky is clear and you have a minute or two to spare, the Google method (cell location) is cool but you need to allow it to be more precise (should be user configurable).

If you want instant you will need a combination of both and have them always on to have the services in a second. This will come and I think a lot of new products are just over the horizon… I do totally agree with the multiple phones issue… it

oh wow, this is depressing. but I do agree with constantine. a lot of mobile handheld makers are moving towards full-browsing enabled devices and hopefully, the browsing experience of mobile web will get a nice boost.

Your rant is a difficult read because it rings so true to so many people, Ewan. Innovation is organisationally strangled in this industry at present.

What are people's opinions on the role of the regulator here? My view would be that supporting UK innovation should be a primary goal of what they do, given the importance at the national level of a thriving mobile ecosystem. At present, if you look at their top level mandate and principles ( there is some stuff about 'competition' but nothing which provides a clear position on where they should go next with respect to the wider mobile ecosystem.

Is anyone aware of any specific work that is underway in this regard? The readership of this site could prove a powerful lobby group…

Great rant, Ewan. Fantastic stuff. And spot on.

As you know, your entire wish list, and more, is achievable. Right now.

However, they say 'Neccessity is the Mother of Invention'. As such, only when it becomes a neccessity will such seamless and integrated services be offered – and used.

Matey – I hear ya – I feel your frustration.

But…….inevitably what we expect things to do and what things actually CAN do has a gap between. The gap of frustration if you will.

Your piece seemingly boils down to user experience and device capability.

I believe that what we are embarking on however will be less of a technical, capability challenge (although that is massive in itself) but more of an emotional one (i.e. the UX part).

Even if all of the things we would like to be in place (capability-wise) actually were, the challenges such as privacy, ownership of data, intrusion into personal device and permission/preference based user experience will still be the ones which require the most attention – in my opinion.

If data plans were more as we would wish and the other cost-based barriers to usage were lowered or removed, I can see a world that revolves around the rules of engagement which I see as:

1. Ease of Interaction
2. Relevancy of Communication
3. Value of Incentive
4. Transparency of Offering

I think the innovation is still there. I think its there heaps – its just that there are too many barriers currently for that brilliance to shine.

We also must not overlook that the 'boring' uses of phones will, for a long time, be the primary uses.

Due to that – when looking at personal brand engagement on mobile devices – we must consider peoples common usage of their most personal device – which is messaging. This is not to slam other excellent and innovative uses – just looking at what the (soon to be) 4 BILLION mobile subscribers DO with their devices.

Constantine is spot on. We need patience and combined positivity and evangelism.

We don't have to wait for the industry to catch up because WE ARE the industry. We just have some loose screws that need tightening and sure – it may be heavy going for a while but I wholeheartedly believe its not completely Class-F.

Hang in there bro.

The glass is definitely 50% full, and is being topped up all the time.

Ewan's New Mobile World Order enablers:

Truly, utterly flat-rate data, inclusive of everything. Almost Nearly there for most networks, especially if you talk about browsing on the small screen (even Vf's 500MB inclusive deal should do the trick).

Many networks are now truly open, not blocking any ports. Those that aren't will loose customers.

Speed/latency: HSPA 7.2/2.4 is a huge step forward, as the 3G iPhone will show next Friday when the first week's Google browsing figures blow away the previous records set by the 2G verison.

Coverage: >90% of people have good-to-great 3G coverage, and if you are on 3 or T-Mo it's probably HSPA to boot.

Client vs. Web apps: PC-based AJAX combined with true MB broadband has pretty much utterly demolished the need for apps on PC's (proof point: Google Maps / Flickr). Mobile AJAX browsers will become default by the end of this year.

Handset processors / batteries: Very fast-moving segment over the last 2 years. The line is thouroughly blurred as to where the bottlenecks now are – in the handset, the mobile RAN layer, the MNO core, MNO internet connectivity or the internet in general. All have improved markedly, and will continue to do so as pinch-points become apparent and are acted upon.

Business models and MNO reality: Entrepreneurs are realising that MNO's simply CANNOT allocate the requisite staff, time, portal or website resource to push even a tiny fraction of things out there to the base. Do you expect BT or Tiscali to introduce you to everything the web has to offer on your PC? NO! Don't rely on MNO's to do so for the mobile. They will pick & chose a few winners, but their marketing dept is measured in a few handfuls of product managers.

The Apple App store will do very well indeed. Others will follow.

As Constantine says, the next 10 years will be brilliant. The Normobs will one day soon assume the wonderful iPhone-like mobile internet experience, all joined up, with all Ewan's pain points removed is a new invention, pulled out of the box last Thursday.

Chin up chap!


edit After writing this, I feel pretty vindicated by Dean Bubley's latest post on how Nokia are getting all webby-AJAX'y on yo' ass with very low-end S40 handsets.


I think one major factor is we're coming up against psychology – of the operators and the users. In the operators case, lets face it, they're big dinosaurs who don't realise it. Sure, there are cutting edge innovators within, but the net effect of the whole organisation that an operator is, with it's sprawling technical infrastructure, shareholders, managers for whom “data” for years meant green text on black screens, tape changes and COBOL, it's grey-haired old executives, and tens of thousands of staff in a multi layered heirarchy – the net effect of all this is a lumbering dinosaur where possibility (of 3rd party innovators) is killed by policy (of managers and lawyers who wouldn't understand 3rd party technical innovation, or the cutting edge of mobile, if you formed it into a club and beat them over the head with it) and the marketing outpaces the technical infrastructure several times over. There's an arrogance and an ignorance of possibility in these operators that is in their blood (all thought walled gardens were the future don't forget). It will take time to cure them of their illness.

Personally I've had an appalling experience with T-Mobile data, across different handsets and locations countrywide, and despite various technicians examining my account. One let slip that this wasn't an unusual experience. Sometimes (maybe a quarter to a third) it's great – instant connection, fast. Around half my attempts at any sort of internet connection, using different apps on both mobile and PC (with phone as modem) fail to even connect on T-Mobile. The other quarter of attempts work well for a few seconds then slow down, pause inexplicably for minutes, or just drop the connection. Having worked with network infrastructure previously, I know all the hallmarks of weak, underpowered, just-can't-cope infrastructure and back-end servers at T-Mobile when I see them.

The other psychology issue is the users – they don't realise what they can get, what is out there. And when they do, they fear data costs. So, flat rate data is essential, and we're slowly getting there. The rest is well probably everybody's fault. Or everyone could make improvements to increase consumer awareness – phone makers, OS makers, sales outlets (although mobile phone sales staff are INCREDIBLY ignorant of just about everything), and software vendors themselves. Clearly more responsibility lies with people with money to market better. Kudos to Nokia for example for plastering Maps 2.0 posters everywhere I went recently.

I agree with the other comments – things will brighten, and probably quite rapidly. We have mainly Apple, and secondly Google to thank for that. Major gold stars for iPhone and Android on that front.

“edit After writing this, I feel pretty vindicated by Dean Bubley's latest post on how Nokia are getting all webby-AJAX'y on yo' ass with very low-end S40 handsets.”

Let me put it this way – java on mobiles: a common platform with a well- known specification and minimal requirements. OpenGL ES. 1.1: a common platform for all mobiles, with or without 3d acelleration, with a well known and open specification from one end to the other. Both platforms are well used, there are numerous development tools for either, and it doesn't require licensing to use them. AJAX – mobile web 2.0: ability to deploy xml- specified applications with server- side and client side deployment, finally making the operators unecessary for the actual operation of the applications. The handset makers (or independent developers) might only have to create small interpreters in various visual shapes to display the “apps”.

Result: nothing. Result: mobile operators claim exclusivity on deployment. Result: mobile operators spend insane amounts of money on making their own device- specific standard that no one else can use. Result: Apple launches “Apple shop” and claims they invented widgets. Nokia will follow soon with their own widgets – that are both INCOMPATIBLE WITH ANY OTHER ***ING PLATFORM! Result: SHITE!

I definetely agree with the sentiments in this article … and I am suprised at the contents considering that Ewan wrote it.

I tried lots of apps with an S60 phone and unlimited data plan and basically found none of them compelling enough or integrated enough to make me want to keep using them.

I see two problems:
1) Operator control
2) Integration of the software on a phone

The operators have spent so much money that I just can't see them letting go very much.

1) I think it was mentionned that for MobileMe Apple are installing kits at the Telcos. How else does a developer send a notification to wake up a phone so that it doesn't need a permanent battery sapping 3G link?

How are developers going to get reasonably cheap access to location info? (this might get solved when every phone has a GPS)

Will operators become more open with IMS systems? I doubt it.

Without these types of services the applications you can offer are more limited.

2) I hope that Android manages to show what can be achieved when add on apps are first class citizens. I don't think that dumb data pipes to the internet are enough for a properly open system. Something like Opera mini shows what a great job a reformatting proxy can do but it doesn't integrate with the rest of the system. The google mail app is quick and usable but it doesn't do proper push mail.

There may be some shining examples of great apps but it just doesn't make a compelling system at present.

You know – you are getting this a bit backwards. It’s not that widgets actually are innovative, or that Apple will somehow make it available to the common guy in the street with the iPhone. The principle behind it – a standalone application that communicates over the net – is something that several other manufacturers have attempted already. Wap is that type of service – one that recognizes your phone globally, and allows the vendor to charge your phone- bill for a service. And it’s actually less device dependent.

The new thing about it is that it’s graphically pleasing. Well – if you rule out Nokias music- store or N-gage – because either of those are similar types of apps.

So when Apple manages to sell phones and start the Apple Store – I hope you realy understand that nothing new happens. It’s still a one- device platform (soon to become “two device platform”), and is even more restricted for developers in terms of connection services than any of the existing platforms have ever been. Compared to java, it’s a remarkable joke. Even if their specific device- dependent platform happens to use commonly available technology for implementing their program, of course.

In other words, there’s no magical barrier that has to be broken here by making the Apple Store popular. The magical barrier exists, like carefully laid out in the main post, in the mobile industry’s fetish for platform exclusivity and closed device dependent solutions. And frankly, that has nothing to do with whether or not the leadership in the phone- industry are hung up on old technology. I know many old programmers (also in the mobile phone business) who can draw up process- diagrams that perfectly explain an abstraction of a multi- layered network, more than well enough to successfully implement widget deployment systems of various kinds.

So when we’re talking about psychology here, I think we should be specific enough to say that the problem many people see is that the platform- dependent and operator controlled solutions won’t take off. That people will not buy bad mp3 recordings on the phone, or want to browse news on a tiny screen on portals the operators allow you.

Just remember that for example Opera mini – an aberration in terms of the mobile industry, in that it can be deployed on just about all devices at the moment, in all kinds of resolutions and layouts, and read actual web- content as it’s intended to be watched – is still a very popular browser.

Now – why do you think that is? Is it because the psychology of the buyers don’t think the web is cool enough on a mobile? That people won’t log on to twitter with their mobile browser? It’s just not the case. But the problem is data- costs – and why spend exorbitant amounts of money on something you can do on your computer, if it can wait? In the same way – why in the world spend your battery and money on a developers specifically and platform dependent solution if you can do the same on your computer?

Again – it’s not that the Apple Store will break any boundaries in anything except brazen exploitation of underinformed customers. While the ones who want to seek actual platform- independent solutions are seen as the enemy, who wants to hollow out the mobile industry’s core: the exclusivity that forces customers to pay them. While in reality the only way to actually make these new services available on the phones, as well as economically viable, is to adapt to the actual standards.

But as long as the sickness of platform exclusivity remains in the mobile business – then it’s a waste of money. Analoguous to what’s going on now is the Internet Explorer html implementations, against the actual standard – how many didn’t predict that if Microsoft wasn’t allowed to do this, then they would lose market- share. And that it was only fair and proper to allow Microsoft to fuse their very bad implementations into their system, so that in order to actually display pages properly, you’d have to use IE? While in reality – that’s not necessary, and it makes no difference whether you’re using one browser or the other if the html is actually coded well. Neither does it ruin IE’s popularity to adapt to the standard, rather than having people adapt to it. In fact – making sure we’re doing away with things like this has done quite a lot for web- development in general. Because it opens up for actual competition, and allows people to look at the possibilities of the platform, rather than just the limitations.

So sure – there’s psychology involved. But it has to do with users not trusting the solutions they’re offered, and not seeing the use of them. The Apple Store is no exception, something you can see from the actual sales (while ignoring the hype and constant flow of inane advertisements) for a while.

For example – ask if people have tried SE’s playnow index, or nokias music store – and you’ll hear that sure, people have tried it, but they don’t know what they’re really buying (good quality, bad quality, right version, bad version, is the price comparable, etc.), and they think the shelves are very thin with applications. And for example – owing to SE’s brilliance in marketing talent – you can still only download the java- version of google maps from the playnow pages, even if you have a smartphone. And to find the applications for those phones, you have to look around quite a lot. And even then – we just have so few pages where people review the phones and the opportunities with the phones that there’s no wonder people don’t use them.

In the same way phone- reviews always – and why this is I cannot understand – orient themselves around the manufacturer’s sales- pitch. Never do I read something like this when people review computers, or computer program suites. They’d be laughed off their site if they did – just listen: “Dell constructed a good computer on this model, and office applications are particularly good. You can also buy music with it over the internet, as well as use IM with particular in- built clients, which come integrated into the browser and PIM application. If you wish to install 3rd party software, you can even do that”.

But again and again – even when people do know better – that is how the reviews are written. Some even go to great lenghts (like to avoid mentioning 3rd party support for applications, as this is not “part of the sales package”. And therefore should not be included in the evaluation of the product.

So yeah – there’s psychology involved. But it has nothing to do with certain people’s infatuation with yet another platform- dependent solution to pull money off ignorant users. And besides – there’s got to be a limit to how many weather- applications you can sell – even to iPhone users.

A very interesting article, and a sign of the networks we should, one day, hopefully soon, enjoy. But I’m not holding my breath. However, if you’ll indulge me, I took your thoughts and ran with them. I know this isn’t quite “mobile-related”, but something’s been nagging at me for a while, and I want to get this off my chest. What you’re describing is a microcosm – of communications, of all kinds. I see a world, and I want to live long enough to see it, where technology moves out of its current dual-world existence of “business” and “pleasure” and morphs the whole kit and caboodle into something that will actually improve our lives in much more expansive ways. It’s feasible, but we have such an incredibly long way to go.

Try this for size – sorry for the length, but I think you’ll see where I’m coming from.

Every weekday, nearly 18 million vehicles are on our roads. Around half of these are ferrying people to work in office buildings. Many of these people will then spend the next 8 hours looking at computer screens and typing on keyboards, or talking on the phone, or attending meetings. But little else.

Now, imagine those people found a different way to work. Imagine that half of them didn’t need to go to the office (or visit clients) ever again. Imagine another half only needed to go to the office (or again, visit clients) 2-3 times per week (we’ll average it out at 2.5 days for the sake of simplicity). That would mean, all other things being equal, nearly 7 million less vehicles on the road each day, or close to a 40% reduction. That proportion will only increase as the UK moves ever further away from “hands-on” manufacturing and towards an economy in which service is the overwhemingly dominant sector.

And that’s just “the workers”.

Now take into account the numerous “2nd car families”. While many of those 2nd cars are engaged in that daily commute, there’s also a big proportion which aren’t. Those cars exist for different reasons – to allow the stay-at-home partner/parent to get around while the “1st car” is off on commute duties. What for? The infamous school run, for one – while in my day I walked (to primary school) or took the bus (to secondary school), in today’s environment of street crime and sick individuals who prey on kids, many parents don’t want to take that risk every day and would rather take the direct responsibility for shifting their offspring door-to-door. Then after the school run, it’s time to go to Tesco or wherever – with grocery shopping more and more taking place in megacomplexes on the outskirts of town rather than on our local high street, walking to the shops simply isn’t an option anymore.

But imagine that all went away too. Shall we say another 10-12% less vehicles, so we’re now looking at a 50% reduction in total.

So… I’m just a touchy-feely environmentalist, and I’m dreaming. Aren’t I?

Actually, anything but. I personally feel the environmental lobby is a bit of a crock based on pseudo-science that’s been manipulated to provide an awful lot of people with jobs. But, I suppose I could be wrong, so bear with me. What I’ve just described, regardless of reason or motivation, is HALVING the traffic on our roads, which would in turn, again all other things being equal, equate to a 50% of traffic-generated carbon emissions. The benefit might be fuzzy, but it can’t hurt, can it? Moreover, what’s not so wooly is that what would equally follow would be a 50% reduction in the congestion suffered by our massively overburdened road network – that part, I would argue, is pretty much solid.

So what’s this all about and WTF does it have to do with communications technology? Because all of this is achievable, through technology.

Let’s take our “worker bees” first. OK, I’ve described what they do, now tell me what, in those functions, they couldn’t do… from home. We have access to fast connections. We have PCs. We have email. We have IM, and we have SMS. We have phones. We have remote access to systems and files in both office environments (even if just through good old Terminal Services) and “sitting out there on the cloud”. We can even videoconference – there’s even a program already installed on every PC in this country called Netmeeting. Nobody uses it anymore. It might be basic, but for a simple videomeeting? It’s all you need! Damn, our kids do it all the time on MSN Messenger! What about Skype and other VoIP systems? So why the hell do we need to go to offices to do all of this? I’ll explain why, but not just yet.

Now, our two car families. Before I get to the “School & Tesco crowd”, let’s stay with the workers for the moment. An interesting statistic, published in one of the rags just this last weekend. The article showed a map of Britain, with where the biggest growth and lowest growth in 2 car families was occurring. Guess what? The highest growth was in the North of Scotland. The lowest (and in fact, it showed a decline) was in London. Stands to reason, doesn’t it? While London/Ken Livingston has made great efforts to drive people onto public transport (by both carrot and stick), the further you get from the capital, public transport becomes more and more of a joke. Certainly in the North of Scotland, public transport is so sporadic that it isn’t even an option to get to where you need to be with any kind of expediency. No wonder they need two cars.

Yet what’s driving this requirement in the North of Scotland? It’s the economy. It’s the fastest growing local economy in Britain. Land is cheap, so are rank & file workers (relatively speaking), so it’s an attractive area for companies old and new to relocate to, especially if your needs are not tied to geography, and as Britain moves more and more towards the service-based economy, that will only continue to be the case. All of which makes it even more ironic that those same companies based in Inverness or wherever, who’ve rejected geography as a limitation, still insist on pulling their staff into the office, day in, day out.

But what of those “non-commute” second car families I mentioned? How do we reduce their travel requirements? Again, why not let technology take the strain? Groceries? Ahem… Tesco Direct, anyone? Or any of the equivalent services offered by their competitors? Great service, no idea why more people don’t use it. The School Run? OK, let’s get radical – how about we only send our kids (physically) to school 2-3 days per week, and the other days… they stay home and “attend” over the internet? Videoconference lessons, etc. The only actual reason we should even send them to school at all is for the sake of their own social and personal development, to interact with others. Would it cause problems with kids being at home and childcare required? A minor logisitical difficulty – give ’em all laptops, then parents can develop rotas of watching over a few kids at a time (and if more parents are at home anyway, you’ll find plenty of candidates). The teacher, meanwhile, can check attendance via webcam, and can log onto any kid’s box at any point in the school day to see what’s going on (the same system could be used by paranoid bosses who think their staff are skiving off). Privacy? Not a concern – each user has to consent to let the teacher/boss see what’s on their PC, and at the end of the day, they disconnect them, whether they like it or not.

The benefits? God, where do I start?

(1) Our companies and corporations no longer need to invest in buildings capable of housing hundreds of people if many of their employees never need to come in, so they can save money with smaller premises where hotdesking schemes can be put into operation.

(2) Our schools will no longer be so overcrowded – which might, in turn, allow the pupils who need more help to have more time spent on them. They could physically attend the school to have teachers work directly with them. I don’t even need to mention the fact that every bit of evidence ever published also shows that today’s kids are far more receptive to PC-based learning than anything they get in a classroom. Oh, and did I mention that MAYBE, if they spend all day at the PC, they might actually get off their fat little butts and do something more energetic in the evenings instead of being glued to the screen as they are now?

(3) Supermarkets will no longer have to hold massive landbanks, which will free up more land in our overcrowded nation. We actually might spend a bit less with them though, because we’ll no longer face that situation we’ve all encountered where we buy something only to find we had enough of it in the fridge all ready, and we end up having to toss it out. Considering we throw, what is it… a third of what we buy in the bin nowadays? Not a bad idea.

(4) That saving, of course, will pale next to how much we’ll save on fuel and on wear & tear on our vehicles – take away the daily commute, the school run and the Tesco Express, and what’s left (I’d say 90% of my mileage is spent on these three things, maybe more)? Except maybe for many of us to actually enjoy driving again? In fact, even if our employers asked for a small reduction in salaries (say 5%) because we didn’t need to commute anymore (another benefit for them), I think a lot of us would take it (especially as it would only equate to even less after tax) if the benefit to us was not having to spend 10% of our disposable incomes on fuel every month. Everyone wins! Damn, have I just done the Bank of England’s job for it and reversed wage-driven inflation as well?

(5) How about the TIME we would save not having to sit in traffic each morning and each night? Time we could spend with our families, and our friends. Time we could spend with our neighbors – I recently spent some time with an old school friend who I hadn’t seen in years. He’s doing well: nice house, nice area. I asked him what his neighbors were like. Guess what? He barely knows them. He hardly sees them because he’s out of the house at 6.30 and not home until 7.30 at night. Did I mention he’s only lived there about five years? Suffice to say, you can’t have community spirit if you don’t actually have a community.

(6) Similiar thing (and a topical one) – that we also get to spend a lot more time enjoying that house we just mortgaged our asses off to buy instead of using it as little more than a place to sleep, eat and spend the weekend. How about the London property market in particular, where nothing’s affordable anymore? Well, no more need for the well-off to keep that “city crash pad” they use four nights a week because “home” is four hours away out in the counties, so all that living space suddenly is freed up!

… and I could go on.

Yet it’s not happening. Why?

It’s not that we lack the software to make this all happen. We have 99% of it – right now. The 1% we don’t have isn’t anything to be scared of either, it’s the kind of stuff that could be built in months, maybe even weeks, if the developers actually knew there was a market for it and someone asked them to build it. It’s not lack of desire either – nearly everyone I know would be delighted to be able to lead the kind of life I’ve described above. So what’s stopping us?


Just as you are disappointed with how far the mobile comms market has come, I’m even more disappointed with how little we’ve actually done with the communications industry as a whole. Our networks are rancid – quite frankly, if everyone adopted this lifestyle tomorrow, it wouldn’t last 5 minutes. The sheer bandwidth it would require is massive, hundreds, perhaps thousands of times what today’s backbones are able to handle (for a microcosm of this, wait until next week when you’ll see a whole bunch of disappointed 3G iPhone wielders wondering why their shiny new Stevephones don’t seem all that quick after all – because a hundred thousand mobile devices suddenly hitting our pathetic 3G network is way more than it’s able to handle). That assumes of course that we could all actually get connected in the first place – and we wouldn’t, because with everyone logging on “as an individual” rather than via a company proxy server (if they even use a proxy, many office based users don’t use anything more than their LAN because they never need to “leave the building” to get what they need), we’ve suddenly brought the IPv4 address availability issue home to roost in a nightmare scenario of permanent latency. In short, the internet as we know it will crumble through overwhelming capacity demand. Tesco might not need that landbank for stores anymore – but I wouldn’t sell ’em off, they’ll need them for server farms.

And that’s where we are – the internet, in the widest sense of the word, is just not built for this. That, to me, and considering the benefits I’ve shown above, is nothing short of criminal. Massive investment is required, and yes, someone (us) will have to pay for it, but the benefits are too large to even contemplate ignoring. But the future (and this is where I rejoin the mobile world) is definitely… in mobile. To lay the amount of hardwire cable to accomodate this sea-change in communications will take three or four decades if we try to dedicate “a cable for everyone”. The efficient solution HAS to be wireless, if even for cost reasons alone. Yes, it’ll cost billions, but better billions than trillions. Yes, we’ll need hundreds more masts, and the environmentalists and NIMBYs will no doubt complain, but considering what we’ve already done for the environment (see back at the top), I think they’re asking for an inch after we’ve already ran a mile.

Like I said, I liked your article, but I think there’s bigger things out there than being able to read restaurant reviews and book one from our handhelds in less than 10 seconds, or finding out one of our friends has just bought a book on Amazon and thinks we might like it too. Perspective here – these are luxuries, frivolities… things that make you go “yeah, that’d be nice”, but let’s face it, we’re pretty darned spoiled if we’re saying that’s what’s going to ramp up our life-satisfaction index a few more points. I’d far rather change the entire fabric of our society for the better. It can be done, but we’re moving at a snail’s pace.

Utopian Rant – Done.

All the “walled gardens” of development are really just fetid holes in the ground with very slippery sides. Thus you need a Zeppelin to float a usable service out and get any user adoption.

Ewan, we're going to chat soon 🙂

Taking you up on challenge 1… Start counting 1-1000, 2-1000, 3-1000… Turn on iPhone. Tap Safari. Tap Moviefone bookmark. Type my zip code (it should auto-detect my location, but we digress). Check the list of films near me. Tap Indiana Jones. Tap Showtimes. Hey, Somerville Theater has four showings today! … 29-1000, 30-1000. And I have 30 seconds to spare.

Yes, it would have taken longer over EDGE, or on a crappy browser, but this isn't bad.

Kasper, you have the luxury of living in a diversified movie marketplace. Alas it's not so simple here in the UK where the databases aren't integrated.

Now try doing the same thing in Chelmsford, UK (an example of a provincial town with a few nearby cinemas).

Its kind of funny coming back to this post after many months. There's a bit happening in the way of change here, but its not at all as fast, or as cheap, as any of us would like.

That being said, there's nothing like people getting it. And for that, I'm kind of happy that we can have these rants and push things forward.

Its kind of funny coming back to this post after many months. There's a bit happening in the way of change here, but its not at all as fast, or as cheap, as any of us would like.

That being said, there's nothing like people getting it. And for that, I'm kind of happy that we can have these rants and push things forward.

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