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 ;-)
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