Sometimes I simply cannot avoid the childish delight that erupts from my mind when I switch on my mobile phone in the Maldives and find email messages start to arrive. The magic of if — the fact I’m on the other side of the planet and this stuff still works — never ceases to amaze me.
Other times, though, I’m reminded of just how far we’ve got to go. I’m reminded that for all the harrahs, whooping iPhone adverts and tweets about the gorgeous HTC Desire, the reality is, we’re no further forward than we were perhaps 4-5 years ago.
4-5 years ago I could download an application and stick it on my Nokia. I could get off the plane in the Maldives and my phone worked, magically. I could get my email pushed to me. I could get IM anywhere on the planet with the fantastic BlackBerry Gtalk integration.
Not much has changed, sadly. Faster devices, better ‘experiences’ — but only incrementally so.
Does this bus go past Great Windmill Street?
It was a simple question. I was walking along Holborn with the camera equipment the other day heading to a Nokia briefing about 10 blocks away. As I walked past an unfamiliar bus stop, I briefly wondered if the number 38 that has just pulled up, went past Great Windmill Street (the location of my meeting).
I looked around slowly. Moving whilst you’re carrying the camera equipment is not a fun experience.
The bus stop signage was blank with a ‘sorry there’s no information here‘ message from Transport for London. I considered getting my iPhone out — for I knew the London Bus app would tell me what I wanted to know in a few clicks.
And that’s when it dawned on me
That’s when I was reminded of just how limited the current mobile interfaces are today. What I really wanted to do was point my phone at the bus and for my phone’s screen to immediately change to a contextual menu of possibilities related to the bus.
Right-away I wanted my phone to ‘do a Terminator‘ — you know — start scrolling a pertinent list of information about the bus, about my location, about the possibilities associated with this bus. I wanted a route-map from (my location to the end of the line, with a convenient flashing dot putting me in context. I wanted the system to have automatically calculated that by taking *this* bus, I would arrive at Great Windmill Street in 5.8 minutes. The system would have naturally been aware of my schedule and the location of my next meeting and used that data accordingly.
And I wanted more!
Standing there I wondered why I couldn’t immediately order a taxi from the handset. I’d have liked the phone or the cloud or the ‘mobile network’ to have already polled the available taxis in the area and automatically determined that I could be at my destination in 3 minutes for a cost of 6 pounds. Plus a network operator ‘booking fee’ of 20p. Or something like that.
I’d have liked to have seen the “Book taxi? 15 seconds arrival time” option on screen. I’d have liked the device to have presented the taxi option to me because it knows I prefer, all things being equal, to use pre-taxed income as a business expense and thus 6 quid wouldn’t have bothered me too much, especially given my heightened blood pressure, heart rate and stress indicators (from carrying all the camera gear).
Further, I’d have liked the phone to have automatically prioritised my preferred taxi providers.
This should all have been displayed to me dynamically and *immediately*. No clicking, no data lag, no messing around.
Alas, I’m dreaming
For all the ‘my Desire is better than your N900 which is better than your N8 and your X10‘ discussions, for all that hot air drifting around the industry about ‘LTE’ and ‘LBS’, the sad reality is that this kind of user experience is decades away. Decades. Oh, the basic ‘apps’ exist, especially on the iPhone. I can piece together this experience in about 5 minutes with multiple, multiple apps and some phone calls. But goodness me, the industry can’t even collectively ensure I can make a 4k/sec voice call without it dropping as I walk down Oxford Street.
The industry can’t even sort itself out with an ecosystem that enables app developers to plug-in to some kind of greater mobile consciousness that would deliver this kind of experience to everyone. This is the same industry that collectively demands 30-40% of ‘anything’ that goes through its transactional systems. Dear me.
Its going to be years and years before we can get this kind of thing.