Wednesday, October 12, 2011

An apocryphal history of the "Smart Phone" (2/2)

Barbarians conquered Rome...

And after the relative enlightenment of the Pax Romana came the Dark Ages.

But somehow, a tiny corner of civilization had survived and thrived. Where things were horribly failing in Europe, in Japan, the "iMode" service had taken off already several years prior. And it was a hit. But iMode "was not" something that WAP "was". It wasn't about technology. What it was, was about things people wanted to do. And, in Japan's case, about things young people wanted to do.

These were two rather interesting differences with the assumptions made by the "big phone operators" in Europe and the US. They aimed the 'smartphone' at relatively righ business users, charged a mint, and didn't consider teenagers and students as a cash-able market. They didn't just miss out on the opportunity of mass-marketing, they also missed out on listening to what people actually wanted to buy.

In Europe, phones were boring. Even the smart ones.

In Japan, the phones had colour screens, could play 'polyphonic ringtones' (the ability to 'beep' in different shades of 'beep'), were 'always online' using (again) faster internet and many of them got a built-in camera. And the phones got a very special feature... Many of them grew a tiny metal loop somewhere at the bottom.

No business person could imagine what it was for. Neither could their 'smart' phones.

Teenagers, students, and (statistically significantly more) girls and women, however, could. They all attached "Hello Kitty" phone decoration accesories to it.

All of these new things a (smart)phone could do sparked a new revolution, a Renaissance, if you will...

Slowly the new ideas drifted across the globe, new thinking about use of phones and networks. And "listening" to what the consumer wanted. The time of the first iPod and MP3 players had dawned. The idea of 'multimedia' phones started to trickle through. As a result, the networks learned how to send picture messages, and the phones learned how to play music.

The age of the camera-phone had arrived. Funny thing though, hardly anybody seemed to be using it… Too cumbersome, too expensive and too difficult, compared to texting… But apparently we liked being able to put a picture in our addressbooks, as nearly every phone in the market spawned a lens…

Especially potent seemed to be the combination of Phone with MP3 player. Sony relaunched its "Walkman" brand as MP3-player phones. And it was convenient, you didn't need two gadgets anymore to make phone calls and to listen to music.

But despite what all the 'seers and sages' of the large telecom companies were predicting, normal internet was still not something phones did. And "mobile data" was still not a big thing for the operators.

Mobile internet was still too expensive. Still too slow. Not just the connections, but the phones themselves were slow. Really, really, slow. And their screens too small for proper browsing.

There seemed to be something blocking real progress there, something in the way mobile phone people were thinking that did not match with what consumer people wanted. In that sense, the lessons of the WAP cataclysm were never fully understood.

It was time for the Industrial Revolution...

[*] Image (c) NEC