The Rise of Mobility : And The Disappearing Mobile Phone (Part 1)

The Rise Of Mobile

I recently rediscovered a chart mapping digital interactivity that I created over a decade ago.  Back then we called it the “Multiple Digital Channel” Map.

I thought it might be interesting to dust it off and re-map it against where we are now, 13 years later. Drawing from a point in the past (1999) to where we are now – and continuing this line into the future – we get a rough idea about where we might be headed in the next 10-15 years.

It gives us three eras in the rise of connected mobility.  I’ve called them: extra-connectivity (without), inter-connectivity (between) and itra-connectivity (within).  Read on and see why.

The Digital Channel Map 1999 : Extra-Connectivity

Multiple Digital Channels

Way back in 1999, along with a few other lucky people, I was part of a mobile research and futurist team at Agency.com. Back then, just before the dot.com crash, it was a world leading interactive design agency.

We’d seen Internet adoption rise incredibly fast in the late 90’s in developed countries. A rapid evolution in the way that we all communicate was clearly underway.  Our task was to advise clients such as British Airways, Orange, General Motors and T-Mobile about what might be coming next.

Client teams in the London office, where we were based, were working on a range of new interactive “channels” including: early interactive TV on Satellite and Cable TV platforms (now the “red” button on UK remotes), and early stage mobile Internet technology, including WAP portals.  We came up with the term “Multiple Digital Channels” to describe the way that we believed the Internet would be accessed via different digital touch-points as  everything became connected.

To provide some context, at the time, the Nokia 7110 was the first consumer WAP phone, with very simple and very slow mobile web browsing.  None-the-less, the sight of pre-launch versions in the hands of Nokia employees at industry conferences was enough to cause gasps of wonder (and stifled envy).

Why the wonder?  We’ll, it was becoming clear that mobile devices would soon be a principle “digital connector”, capable of moving to and between all of the other other digital devices and Internet touch points in our lives;  the deliverer of ubiquitous attachment to the grid; to information, knowledge and each other.

The Map

So, in 1999 I attempted to chart future interactivity between digital devices on a chart (see below).   It maps the state of play, in 1999, for digitally connected devices and what we could now call the “initially connected” people who used them. Back then devices were still “extra-connected” i.e. connected to the web but not to each other (with the exception of the PDA). Almost all access was via a PC.

We expected, in 1999, that the items in grey would become internet connected in the next decade.  The items in black were considered either available, or imminent arrivals as concept models were being demonstrated (not a guarantee of a product launch though, as we’ll see!).   Items at the edge on the diagram were viewed as being static (e.g. a fridge).  Items in the middle, mobile, the ultimate being a “mobile” phone – which we figured would start to interconnect with all the other devices as it was the one device that was personal and could be carried everywhere.

Looking at it now, it still provides a very good framework for where we are now, 13 years later.  However, in terms of forecasting, we did miss a few things.

What we got wrong?

1) NEW DEVICES AND STUFF THAT DIDN’T GET CONNECTED (YET)

Some devices have evolved.  Others simply haven’t become connected for the mass market yet. For example:

  • Tablets such as the iPad didn’t exist (outside of the movies)
  • Fixed Phones evolving to become video enabled internet terminals (an imagined mix of Minitel and the Space Odyssey video phone) simply never took off, while Pay phones continue to disappear.
  • Connected “white goods” have yet to become widely available  (e.g. the “Net Fridge” which is still “coming soon” )
  • Gaming Consoles  (think xBox, PS2 etc) and connected TV’s are now arriving in earnest in 2012.
  • In Car Entertainment is still on-it’s-way (ahem)
  • In-flight WiFi is now finally gaining popularity and I understand that the next generation of In Flight Entertainment (IFE)  is likely to involve WiFi & internet enabled tablets.
  • As for Music players and Cameras? Well, see point 3 below.

2) THE SLOW ARRIVAL OF MOBILE BROADBAND  (OR: “IMAGINING THE FUTURE IS EASY, THE HARD PART IS MAKING IT HAPPEN”)

The second thing that we didn’t foresee (and which is obvious in hindsight) was the slow arrival of  the supporting infrastructure (3G) to enable all of this to happen.   In early 2000 we provided mobile content consultancy to Orange Telecom.  Their Network Engineering team briefed us that  90% of the UK population would have mobile broadband (3G) coverage by the end of 2002 – mid-2003, worst case.  Today in 2012, ten years later, delivery of ubiquitous mobile broadband coverage is still a contentious issue.

All of this is hardly surprising.  Networks cost billions of dollars to purchase and years to roll out.  It’s not a trivial endeavor to bathe billions of people in wireless broadband coverage.  On the plus side we’re now passing the tipping point and approaching mass global population coverage for mobile data. This is a big, big deal and I’ll come back to it in a minute to explain why.

3) DEVICE CONVERGENCE (MOBILE MANGE TOUT)

Finally, for me, the biggest thing we missed is the shift from a plethora of separate specialised digital devices to a convergence of functionalities on a single device – the mobile/cell phone.   As well as interacting with other connected devices, the last decade has seen the mobile “phone” gobbling up, adopting and absorbing multiple attributes of other devices.  Through the 2000’s this new mobile device has merged with and mastered:

  • The PDA: replacing the Palm Pilot (launched 1997) and the iPaq (1998)
  • Music Players: The first portable MP3 player, Creative’s DAP launched at the same time as Siemens first mobile with an MP3 player (both in 2001)
  • Cameras: Gradually appeared and improved from Sharp & Kyocera (1997) to Nokia’s first true camera replacement (2002). Meanwhile, cameras are only now starting to become internet connected 0 see Samsung pic below (launched last month).
  • e-mail and messaging: RIM Blackberry 5810 (launched 2002)
  • Gaming devices: Nokia N-Gage (2003)

Through most of the 2000’s the industry slowly bundled all of these attributes together in a wide variety of weird and wonderful form factors through multiple iterations.  The arrival of the iPhone, and crucially the App Store, from Apple in 2007/2008, although not adding anything “new” in terms of functionally, finally brought all this together (device, connectivity, functionality, content ecosystem)  in a user friendly way. One single device designed holistically rather than as separate bolt-on elements. Enter the era of device “Inter-Connectivity”

Tomorrow On Monday I’ll post the map updated for 2012, showing today’s world of  “InterConnectivity”.

 

4 thoughts on “The Rise of Mobility : And The Disappearing Mobile Phone (Part 1)

  1. Pingback: The Rise of Mobility : And The Disappearing Mobile Phone (Part 2) | bubblingunder…

  2. Pingback: The Rise of Mobility : and the Disappearing Mobile Phone (Part 3) | bubblingunder…

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