a week in wireless

A Week in Wireless – Mobile Eureka moments

The scene of everyone tinkering constantly with their phones or tablets is now so commonplace that we don’t even give it a second thought. Referring to our phones for all manner of things is now so instinctive we do so even during the most minor hiatus, such as TV ads or your friend going to the bar to get a round in.

But lest we forget this is still a recent thing. Prior to 2008 the smartphone was still quite a niche, geeky thing, reserved for early adopters and compulsive multi-taskers. Before Android and iOS smartphones weren’t much more than a PDA (remember them?) with a modem and OSs such as Symbian and Blackberry offered a relatively rudimentary UI.

One of the Informer’s first smartphones was an HTC Tytn II, which ran on Windows Mobile. Not Windows Phone, mind, no this was the predecessor that was essentially a mini version of the full Windows OS, complete with drop down menus and the consequent need for a pokey stylus. While HTC had done its best to apply some polish this phone was a turd, even causing the Informer to retreat back into the trusted embrace of a Sony Ericsson feature phone for a while.

Then came the Motorola Milestone – the Informer’s first Android phone – and suddenly it all made sense. The hardware was very similar to the Tytn II, including the slide-out qwerty we still felt the need for back in the olden days, but it ran Android 2.0 and that made all the difference. It was so easy to add functionality via the app store and those apps were designed for finger and thumb navigation, with the stylus just a painful memory.

Together with most of the civilised world the Informer has never looked back and is now utterly reliant on that clever little black rectangle, but it’s still rewarding to reflect back on that joyous eureka moment when the true empowering, era-defining potential of the smartphone became apparent.

Surely we can all remember the first time we thought we were lost in an unfamiliar place, only for a map app to come to the rescue, or the first time we were able to capture a unique moment thanks to the camera on our phone, instantly share it and then enjoy the fresh social interaction that moment catalysed. And as for boredom, that’s simply not an option anymore, alongside losing track of the sports scores, missing emails and forgetting your MP3 player.

The company that did the most to turn the smartphone from geeky to mass market was Apple. Not only was iOS a quantum leap in terms of user experience, but even back in 2007 Apple had a brand that transcended tech. This was thanks not so much to the Mac as the iPod, which dominated the MP3 market in the 2000s. So when it decided to get into the phone game there was a level of hype that has yet to be equalled.

Consequently the mobile industry has now come to expect Apple to do a similar job of catalysing product categories struggling to get off the ground, such as the smartwatch. The announcement earlier this week was supposed to be the “…one last thing” moment when Apple revealed the secret sauce that will make its smartwatch a mass market hit, and the absence of that came as a genuine surprise.

Another segment in need of a dose of je ne sais quoi is mobile payments/money/wallet. We seems to have been talking about this for ever, but we still use our phones to pay for very little, especially if you discount its role as a mini PC. Unique mobile payment paradigms, such as contactless NFC exchanges, have yet to take off, and many fingers are crossed that Apple Pay may change that.

But even Apple has to contend with culture and the fact is we’ve been paying for things with cash for a very long time. Even cards are still a reassuringly tangible payment method that we know and trust and we’re not going to risk the unknown unless there is a clear benefit to doing so. The same applies to smartwatches and the Informer is still waiting for that Eureka moment that will justify abandoning the trusty analogue watch and leather wallet.

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