Maribel Lopez thinks mobility is like the start of A Tale of Two Cities: The best of times, in that never before have so many people been online and using digital services; and the worst of times, in that carriers don’t know what to do as their landline revenues plummet.
As Maribel and I discussed the slides leading up to her presentation today, I remembered James Bond’s watch in The Spy Who Loved Me. It had a printer in it that spooled out a ribbon of text. This struck me as fascinating: The writers couldn’t have Bond carry a personal communicator, because that would be unrealistic to the 1970s audience. As a result, his cigarette case is a microfilm reader, and his shoebrush is a listening device.
More recent Bond films promise a grittier, meaner Bond, stripped of gadgetry (and, given that it’s Daniel Craig, often of shirt.) Truth be told, Bond has just as much technology. It’s simply wrapped up in his car, his computer, and his phone. What was once inconceivable is now commonplace. And Maribel did a great job of laying that out. Dick Tracy doesn’t need a watch, and Maxwell Smart doesn’t need a shoe phone. Mobility has made all of us secret agents.
Mobile by the numbers
How common is this technology? Look at the numbers. China Mobile adds 6.3 subscribers a month. India added 13 million in one month. Nokia sells over a million handsets a day. And there were 4 billion mobile subscribers in the world.
This amazing growth is fueled by better networks, better handsets, and better functions. The flat-rate data plan has been a huge enabler for data applications. Apple’s iPhone forced the industry to reconsider how things worked. By fixing voicemail with Visual Voicemail, for example, Apple revisited the obstacles we’ve taken for granted. Apple simply raised the bar for usability by making what existed, better.
What does mobility look like tomorrow?
While Web 1.0 and mobile 1.0 are focused on simply getting connected, Mobile 2.0 is focused instead on connecting seamlessly across networks. That means functionality will vary by location, but will become transparent to the user. You’ll buy a near-ubiquitous connectivity package, and you’re buying service. The devices proliferate, too — eBooks, cameras, medical devices, cars, and gaming consoles are all connected to that package. And it’s not just people talking to people, but also devices talking to devices. This “sensor economy” that will emerge from new mobility is an untapped market that promises to revolutionize software.
Of course, there are lots of challenges.
- The incredible variety of devices and operating systems mean you’ll have to develop for many platforms, though APIs are useful.
- We’re still working out distribution: Apple’s App Store has shown the world what mobile distribution can be like, forcing Nokia, RIM and Microsoft to finally bypass the carriers’ awkward attempts to own the sale of mobile apps. But the pricing and license models — per-phone, per-user, per-minute — are still being worked out.
- We need a cloud strategy that will let devices work with centralized computing and on-demand work, and both on-device and in-cloud models matter. Processing power varies by device, so different parts of an application may live in the cloud, and different parts on the device, depending on the features of that device.
Maribel’s consulting firm, Lopez Research, focuses on the mobile industry and emerging mobile technologies.