Muddling Along the Mobile Plateau
Crunchpad announcements coming soon! Nokia is/is not planning an Android phone for this year! Apple is working on a Tablet/Netbook/larger iPod Touch! UMPCs make a comeback! PMPs look to challenge MIDs and other mobile devices! Netbooks challenge notebooks! Amazon’s Kindle is a new platform! Apple sells a bazillion iPhones and two bazillion apps! Palm Pre challenges iPhone! HTC has new iPhone killer!
The headlines are enough to take your breath away at times. The mobile landscape seems to shift a few times a month if not a few times a week. With every new announcement comes new promise and new possibilities. Some of them pan out and some of them don’t, but then that’s where that old saw, “life on the bleeding edge” comes from.
We are indeed seeing advances in the mobile landscape and each new disruption that comes along keeps spurring progress. And progress is a good thing right? Of course it is, unless you’re the guys behind that Shredded Wheat commercial. But, I’m thinking more and more that the “bleeding edge” is widening out to become a “bleeding plateau.” And while the absence of deep chasms on either side of the path may offer comfort, being able to wander along a wider path with some firmer ground underneath can be equally challenging. Quite frankly, I’m not sure consumers or manufacturers know where we’re going, or what we really need (translation-what should come to market), as the race just keeps going in circles with everybody chasing each other’s tail looking for the next mobile holy grail.
Don’t get me wrong. There are some real innovations out there and some truly amazing mobile scenarios to be found, but because the entire mobile ecosystem is evolving so rapidly, I think we’re in the middle of a large mobile muddle on the mobile plateau and will be for some time for better or worse.
Connectivity. One of the keys to mobility is connectivity. If you’re going to conquer the mobile world your device has to be able to connect anytime, anywhere. That’s the promise, but there are still hurdles and obstacles to that being the case. Take Netbooks as a leading indicators. Netbooks took the world by storm and changed how we thought of mobile computing. Intriguingly, even though the original intent was for them to be Internet devices, they did this in the early days using the same methods of connecting that notebooks did. In the comparative short history of the class, we’ve only recently seen Netbooks being offered with 3G radios and subsidized options. Why is that? Because the carriers these devices need for always on connectivity haven’t quite figured out a successful business model that lets these “companion devices” be a true companion to anything else. When and if broadband providers come up with a sensible plan that doesn’t gouge customers who want to use multiple devices this will clear the path for the future of mobility. Netbooks were a huge disruption for the market and have caused big changes, but can you imagine if in the early going there had been “always on” capability?
Battery life. It always comes back to battery life in the world of mobile computing. It always has, and sadly for the foreseeable future, it looks like it always will. We consumers are as guilty as anybody, because we keep buying devices with fictitious battery life claims. Yeah, we scream about it and complain about it, but we’re like fans of the Chicago Cubs. Even though the team keeps losing, we still go to the games. There have been recent calls for different standards of advertising battery life and that’s still bubbling about. But with so much at stake, and with so little innovation happening on this front, I wouldn’t hold your breath. As the world still reels back and forth with daily economic news as confusing as it is distressing, the man/woman/company who builds a better longer lasting battery is going to change that cliche about mousetraps and paths getting beaten to the door.
One Device to Rule Them All. The move to change the moniker of Smartphones to Superphones is a telling one. But I think the key here is not that every consumer wants a device that can do it all, but that different consumers have different needs and when a device can be tailored to fit those needs by adding functionality through applications everybody wins. I’ve got an actor colleague who makes her living performing in musicals where she not only acts and sings, but she skilfully plays musical instruments as well. (She can play 27 different instruments.) Her iPhone is loaded with applications that make her work easier, especially for someone who spends most of her life on the road. The point here is that devices that offer consumers an easier way to doing what they already do are the devices that will succeed in the long run. Well, you might say that’s just common sense? I would agree. But as of yet, we haven’t seen the creators of these devices and platforms, as well as content providers for those platforms, completely grasp that point. The prime example of this is Microsoft’s slow and confusing road on how to license Windows 7 for Netbooks. But again, that’s an old business model trying to reconcile with new market forces as Microsoft tries to come out of the serious harm it did to itself with Vista. Apple gets it and is paving the way. Microsoft, Palm, Nokia, RIM, HTC, Google, etc… are slowly following along and Google’s open Android platform may be the eventual pace setter here, but in a long and never ending race there is no telling who will eventually come close to catching the current leader.
Tis certain that we live in interesting times as all of this evolves, morphs, changes, succeeds, fails, and continues in a dizzying and often confusing pace. On so many levels we consumers benefit from the chaos we help cause and to that extent we’re the big winners here.