Russ has been telling me to setup a mobile specific weblog for a while, and this is it. We’re actually on our way back from the first global Mobile Monday Summit. I wish I could tell you that I was writing this from the event, but that’s not the case. I’m writing this from an 802.11 connection in the Scandinavian Airlines flight on the way home. My cell phone didn’t work when I went over to Finland. I got a prepaid SIM card to use while I was there on the second day, but it had no data service available. And that’s what this weblog is about really, the failure to realize the fantastic potential that cellular mobility has. I would also like it to be about how to change that. What can be done to drag mobility out of its current state and into the next model? Mobility is tethered to the telecom system, and that environment is killing it with mediocre devices, crappy services, spotty networks, and convoluted billing models.
What is mobility? When I think about mobile applications I think about systems that allow you to keep more connected with the people you care about. I don’t think about efficiency. I don’t think about phrases like “global access to corporate data” or “workforce automation”. Those things are somewhat interesting, but not the real killer application. My mother is never really going to care about making her day 4% more efficient by managing her tasks using notifications and scheduling software. She does care about seeing her grandkids, knowing that she’s available should they need her, and feeling involved in their daily lives. She’s not going to start using data services for an application like streaming CNN to her phone. She might start using data services in order to get video of the kids.
Mobility has already worked its way out through the early adopters and technology enthusiasts. It’s possible to do a lot using mobile services, if you’re willing to pay the cost (both in frustration and whopping bills). That needs to change from ‘possible’ to ‘simple’. A good test is how easy it is to recommend a particular usage to someone who isn’t at all familiar with mobile technologies. The example I use is trying to connect a laptop to the Internet using a cell phone. It’s how I connect when I’m commuting back and forth from work. But it’s not something I would recommend to anyone without a technical background. I would feel guilty for leading them into a mire of crappy documentation, needless complexity, nonstandard drivers, incompatibilities, and uneducated support. This is something that should be as easy as plugging a flash drive into a laptop and moving files around. Sometimes the carriers are to blame for intentionally crippling the user, sometimes group incompetence and overengineering are the culprits. The end result is that the services are a lot less useful than they should be. The mobile industry is overflowing with examples like that. That’s why the mobile world is still relatively small. Lots of people have cell phones, but what they’re doing with those phones is just a small sliver of what it should be.