Mobile 2010 – the year your mobile experience changed radically

I probably should have started this post a few months ago when I attended Brandsh’s Mobile World Congress feedback session in Sandton. The next best time to get this post done was around the time I flew to Cape Town to hear more about Nokia’s Ovi Maps and its recently announced free maps and navigation but I didn’t finish my post then either. Although those events are practically ancient news by now, I’m glad I didn’t jump in right away because there has been a flurry of developments since then which, together with those two events, paint an exciting picture of what we can expect from mobile in 2010.

High speed networks

We heard from Justin Spratt, Angus Robinson and Toby Shapshak at the Brandsh event. Justin spoke about the emerging LTE and WIMAX networks which have different approaches to 4th generation wireless networks. At first glance these two standards stand in opposition to each other and network operators and device manufacturers will be forced to choose one over the other. The networks certainly seem to have their preferences (locally we can probably expect MTN and Vodacom to follow the GSM evolution towards LTE in the next year or two) but it appears that we, the consumers, may not need to choose in the near future. The devices we will use to take advantage of these high speed networks may well support both LTE and WIMAX, giving us the ability to switch from one to the other. This probably won’t be as simple as it sounds in practical terms, perhaps more from an administrative perspective, but it could be a reality for us. The end result will be something closer to ubiquitous mobile broadband in cities and other better covered regions and, quite possibly, a truly mobile alternative to DSL connectivity.

The panel at the #brandsh #mwc10 feedback session

Mobile revolution

Angus spoke about device limitations and expressed his opinion that specialised devices like GPS devices will still have a place despite many devices being capable of performing many of those functions fairly well. The iPhone is clearly a pioneering device and it has established a new baseline for a successful smartphone, whether competitors will acknowledge that or not. Its strongest competition is a range of touchscreen Android devices which are being indirectly targeted in Apple’s patent lawsuits against HTC (HTC manufactures a range of Android devices, including the Nexus One, Google’s latest stab at Apple’s iPhone dominance). These next generation Android devices are remarkably similar to the iPhone in many respects. Taking it a step further, even my Nokia N97 was, directly or indirectly, influenced by the iPhone. At the time Angus shared his thoughts, the iPhone still suffered from a number of limitations which come up whenever the iPhone is analysed. These limitations include no multitasking, no real organisational capability for the many applications you can load on to the device and so on. Those limitations are due to be removed when Apple releases its next generation iPhone OS later this year.


The iPad influence

This new mobile OS is likely to further enhance another Apple device which is taking the computing world on a new adventure. The iPad was announced in January to a mixed reception. It has since started shipping and the review are generally pretty good. Like the iPhone, the iPad is likely to spawn a new device category and a new way of thinking about many of our daily computing tasks. One of the criticisms facing the iPad is that between laptops, netbooks and smartphones like the iPhone and Android devices there is no real need for something like the iPad. The more I see, hear and read about the iPad the more I disagree. The form factor alone lends itself to a very different and much improved reading, browsing and general content consumption experience. Take a look at this video demonstrating a possible interface for a magazine on the iPad (and, conceivably, other similar devices):

While I am not convinced that I have an iPad in my future, I have already been thinking along the lines of a device with a similar form factor for some time now. Until the iPad started to arrive in people’s hands, I was pretty much determined to buy myself a Kindle DX. It turns out that the iPad also has a Kindle application which looks pretty good. If the e-ink issue becomes a non-issue, the Kindle devices simply don’t compare to an iPad.

I have also been thinking about all the apps I use each day and which of those apps are available on the iPad/iPhone/iPod Touch platform. This app ecosystem is another reason why mobile is going to be so big. These apps are little content and functionality microcosms which don’t require users to be able to navigate to Web sites or go through more traditional installation processes to install the apps. This makes these devices much more accessible, less intimidating and appealing to the rest of the population (ie, not the techies). There are a couple apps which make the iPad a compelling device for me now (yes, I am eating my previous statements that I wouldn’t get one, ever). The iPad gives me mobile and convenient access to apps like –

  • OmniGroup productivity apps (there will be iPad versions of all of them);
  • Evernote for notes and a wealth of information and documentation I routinely capture into Evernote;
  • NetNewsWire for my feeds (I prefer Google Reader directly but integrating Google Reader-style sharing into a future version of NetNewsWire could change that preference);
  • iTunes for my media on the go while travelling or when I have some time to kill (it is much more convenient to whip out an iPad and watch or listen to something than it is to take out my MacBook, get it started, watch/listen and then put it back to sleep);
  • Kindle for the iPad gives me access to my Amazon ebooks on the go (other options could give me access to even more ebooks from other providers) and that r
    emoves the need for me to carry whichever paper book I may be reading in my bag.

Add the browser that supports HTML 5 and most of my bases are covered. The roughly 10 hours of battery life makes the iPad a probably MacBook replacement for those day trips out of town. When you add a Bluetooth keyboard it becomes even more compelling. It isn’t quite as powerful or versatile as a laptop so I wouldn’t ditch my MacBook for the iPad (you still need to be able to sync the iPad to an iTunes running machine so it isn’t exactly a standalone device) but I could see myself walking out the door with an iPad, possibly a Bluetooth keyboard (the onscreen keyboard is apparently pretty good too) and my plane ticket.

Location, location, location

You’d have to be under a rock to not see that location based services are the focus of just about every mobile developer/service provider/device manufacturer. Nokia flew me and a group of journalists to Cape Town recently for an Ovi Maps themed event. Much of the event centered on Nokia’s strategy towards its mobile services and how the mapping technology comes together on the Nokia platform. We even found out about what it takes to develop the maps that Nokia’s supplier, Navteq, contributes to Ovi Maps. The whole process is a lot more technical than I thought and pretty impressive.

While Nokia’s devices are lagging behind the iPhone and Android devices (and, quite possibly, Windows 7 phones too in the near future), Nokia’s Ovi Maps is the best navigation software I have had an opportunity to use. The maps look great and introducing free voice guided navigation for life was a brilliant move. That being said it could be better integrated into social services other than Facebook and MySpace (still not sure why Nokia picked MySpace).

I’ve been using Foursquare through Gravity and, as much as I prefer Ovi Maps on my N97 for navigation and to discover stuff around me, Foursquare integrates into my various social services better. Simply adding Twitter integration into Ovi Maps location sharing and tidying up its location sharing posts to Facebook would make a Nokia device almost indispensable to me.

As much as I have used Foursquare, I am not sure I see its value as a sort of location based game. It feels like these location-based services need to mature and become more useful in real terms rather than as a hi-tech gimmick. Of the services I have seen so far, Ovi Maps is one of the services that has a good chance of doing this. Unfortunately Nokia devices don’t appeal to the digerati, trendsetters and influencers. This could well stymie Ovi Maps’ development and that would be a tragedy. I’d love to see Ovi Maps become available on other platforms but it is too important to let out the Nokia compound.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see Google’s location based services become more useful in real terms in the coming year or so. Google Maps is the best Web based maps service and the possible introduction of Google navigation in the next generation of Android devices to hit SA could put a dent in Nokia’s marketshare. I’m sucking much of this out of my thumb but it could happen.

Peering into my LCD screen

With all the developments we’ve seen in just 4 months, I think there is still a lot to come our way. There are rumours about Android-based tablets/slates already. The Amazon Kindle is practically an anachronism already as we see new devices enable rich media publications and incorporate richer functionality. Mobile phones are becoming more complex and capable and when you add more pervasive wireless broadband to the mix, our experience of the Internet becomes a lot more personal, useful and meaningful.




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