Saturday, August 12, 2006

The mobile time warp

I spoke at a very nice event in San Francisco on Thursday, organized by BAIA at Adobe. The title was "Mobile Platforms: The New Frontier for Software and Services". It was organized as a panel. Great attendance, lots of smart people, phenomenal gelato (you must trust an Italian when you hear good things about pizza and gelato ;-)

We all talked about the new frontier of mobile and - at times - I felt we were trapped in the mobile time warp. It is an interesting phenomenon that I observed in the last six years. Time is frozen in mobile.

We talked about m-commerce and people buying books with their phone, the phone as a wallet and paying for parking with your cell, the third screen and TV coming to your mobile device, the "look at how they use it in Japan" thing. I was on the same panel six years ago and I heard the same exact statements. Maybe the gelato was different, but everything else was exactly the same. That's the mobile time warp.

I tried to get out of the mobile time warp, saying that I feel the phone is mostly a messaging device (that's voice and text), that Japanese people spend four hours a day on a train with their phone in their hands (and I am lucky if I have 30 seconds when I get out of my car before entering the office) and that I need my couch to watch TV, that the phone will be perfect to receive tickets and get you in the opera and the stadium and on the train or even buy coke at the vending machine, because its value is the location and the fact you always carry with you. I even said that any uptake will simply be based on how carriers bill the services (it usually helps to get people out of the warp).

I failed, I got trapped in the mobile time warp. We have heavily marketed this thing for six years and people are still waiting for the dream to materialize. The reality is that the phone will be used by many different people to do million different things (but the killer app will boringly be messaging, anything else will be a niche). The phone won't replace my PC, my TV, and probably not even my iPod nano (which is the perfect specialized device). When will be able to get out of pure marketing, segment the market based on age and location, understand usability patterns (I bet all I had that launching 3G for videocalls in Italy would not have worked, and they actually made it thanks to lower voice tariffs) and listen to the users?

Will we ever break the mobile time warp?