What is mobility, really?

I was going to blog about this, but Charlie got there first, so here's a short recap as to what started the discussion:

I was listening to the Supernova 2005 panel on mobility as a podcast, and got progressively angrier at the complete lack of vision from their part: everybody was treating mobile phones as just lighter versions of laptops. Then I also read Charlie's commentary on the same subject, and got rather ranty on another blog.

Mobile phones are not just bad browsers on resource-constrained devices with crappy connectivity and non-free voice.

This is something we Nokians keep iterating over and over. But as I uttered those words, enraged at nobody in particular, I realized that I lack the proper explanation on what really makes a phone different from a laptop with Skype. And if I can't figure it out, then maybe these people are right. Maybe mobile phones should just be treated like computers with tiny screens?

I have a few explanations, though not many: Charlie explains my thoughts well in his article, so let me just reiterate quickly: mobile phones are mostly background devices, whereas a laptop has a tendency of consuming all your attention, becoming a foreground device. The usage patterns are fundamentally different: A mobile phone is always on, always connected, always with you. It's not a Big Brother, but more like a Little Brother, if you excuse the pun.

Another difference I can think of is that a mobile phone is more of a physical object than a laptop is: The mobile phone gets decorated with covers and straps and things; the laptop stays the same - though you might reconfigure Windows backdrop and rearrange your Dock. But these are just representations - abstract metaphors, if you will.

I also believe why this is the reason why podcasting has an upper hand over mobile TV: it designs for the background experience instead of the foreground experience: you can still drive while listening on the radio, but you need your eyes and ears on the telly.

Somewhat related, Marko has an excellent essay detailing the future challenges that people writing applications for mobile devices have to face, such as "how to design for something that is sometimes off, in a world that is normally always on?" Worth reading, really.

This area is wrought with uncertainty and general vagueness - it's just the kind of an in-between that consultants thrive in and produce Powerpoint after Powerpoint. I don't even know whether it's useful to care about this, but then again... It's nice once in a while to try to understand what industry you are working in...

Opinions welcome. You might not even see a problem here ;-)


Hyvä näkökulma. Tuo Ahtisaaren 'bloggin over las vegas' on tosiaan lukemisen arvoinen.

Itse pohdin kovasti sosiaalisten eleiden ulottamista kännykkään, tai social primitives', niinkuin Marko kirjoittaa

<I>"The challenge has to do with the next wave of the social: What are some of the forms of social interaction existing (online and off) that could slip onto the mobile platform? What are some of the patterns of sharing that could be better designed? What could these social primitives be?"</I>

Luin joskus jutun, ehkä viime joulukuussa Aamulehdestä, korealaisesta (?) mobiilipalvelusta, jossa saattoi ostaa toisen käynnykkään kukkakimpun. Joka toki kuihtuu aikanaan. Mikä nerokas ansaintalogiikka!

--Tuija, 07-Sep-2005

I wonder if the fact that laptops have TV-shaped screens is their allconsuming power and problem...

--ChrisH, 07-Sep-2005

Dunno. I think maybe the fact that they have screens in the first place is their problem. :-)

--JanneJalkanen, 07-Sep-2005

A difference between a mobile phone and a laptop? Hmmm... as the computing power grows, and wlans will be part of mobile phones, I guess the difference will be user interface. Mobile phones are small, pocket size. There are consequences in application domain for this. For example, this naturally explains, why people are not talking to their laptops while walking on the streets. This actually is the only long term advantage mobile phones have over laptops.

--Juggernaut, 08-Sep-2005

"Sometimess Off vs. Always On"

Yeah, babe, I want assynchronous services, and services initiated by me. Don't call me, I call you.

--Juggernaut, 08-Sep-2005

Juggernaut: but it's not only about user interface. I am claiming that the way we use mobile phones is fundamentally different from the way we use laptops, or even PDA devices. And this shows in the way that the hardware is designed, and also in the way that the software is designed.

It's not about technology - the average consumer gives a duck's shit about technology. It's a difference in the way we approach these two devices. I know geeks sometimes get the two confused, as they view the world through technology-only-glasses ;-)

--JanneJalkanen, 08-Sep-2005

Hmmm... II. Usage is quite different, for now. But these originally two separte tools are getting closer to each others. Laptops are getting mobility features and voice, mobile phones are getting applications. I would guess, that in the future, these devices might merge into one through innovations in user interface. (into one = everything you can do with the other device, you can do with the other one, although the experience isn't necessarily optimal)

Usage of mobile phones is changing. First voice voice, then text messages, now there are applications marching in. When it comes to laptops, there is Skype and wlan. The approach is changing in both ends of the spectrum.

--Juggernaut, 09-Sep-2005

--Hephail, 09-Sep-2005

Your comment box confuses me :P The difference between a mobile phone, and any other device... is that it is an extension of the human body. That, if a mobile phone is switched off, we feel like a part of our body is cut off. Here, the execution of the function, is of paramount importance. That is why we would prefer our phone to an alarm clock, the same way we prefer a padded glove to hold a vessel rather than a forcep kind of device... it's just more comfortable.

I sometimes use my mobile to call someone, even though there is a phone booth nearby, which is cheaper, for the same reason.


--Hephail, 09-Sep-2005

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