Sunday, October 07, 2012

Mobile – The Technology Tsunami

No other development in the history of the world has caused so much change, in such a short time period, as the explosive growth of the mobile phone in general, and the smart phone in particular.

There are reportedly about 6 billion cell phones littering our planet. Taking into account the pre-technology aged, the impoverished, the lost tribes of the Amazon and those lucky babes in arms who have not yet succumbed to the slavery of connectivity – where are all these phones hiding? It would seem to me from the statistics that every drawer in the homes of the “developed” nations must be buzzing and vibrating with the syncopated chorus of inane ringtones and assorted bizarre sounds used to alert the jaded consumer that his or her shiny ringmaster is calling for attention.

We are used to concerned parents wailing about their children’s inability to communicate verbally – whilst they themselves are tied to their BB or iPhone or whatever device is fashionable in their social network.

The humble portable phone, which is how the mobile phone started its life, was just that. A phone which did not need a fixed line to operate. And this was revolutionary and exciting, if a little big and clunky. Well the brick soon transformed into a swan – except that, instead of growing UP into a swan, it grew DOWN into a smaller, lighter, thinner super computer. The current smartphone boasts quad core processors, 1Gb RAM, 1Ghz processor speeds and includes more gadgets and gizmos than most people’s desktop computers. Even the technological wizardry was not enough for the manufacturers with mobile phones and cameras merging into the same space – and Nokia upped the ante by cramming a 41 megapixel giant killer into their 808 PureView smartphone. Where does this end?

The Nokia 808 is not really a game changer though, I think it is too extreme and too specialised, since the ubiquitous 8Mp camera as found in the Samsung Galaxy Slll, the latest iPhone and most top end smartphones seems to have become the norm, at least for the time being. Nokia has always tended to seek the top end with regard to phone cameras, largely due to their 7 year partnership with Carl Zeiss, who provide the camera technology. The camera innovations are seen by many as a desperate attempt to keep market share and retain credibility in a market which is moving away from the struggling Finish manufacturer. Although an interesting point worth thinking about is that the Nokia 1100 is the most popular phone in the world – and especially in developing countries, because it is cheap, rugged, dust proof, water resistant, has few spare parts and includes a built-in flash light! It is also easy to repair.

Where does mobile go from here? It has pushed the boundaries in development terms and has long since exceeded the needs and abilities of most of it users. So where to now?

Obviously there is no simple answer, since we are talking about a product that is used by virtually the entire population of the world. Needs and expectations vary according to the markets the phones are used in. But the primary focus areas for mobile phones are the following:

Feature Phones: 70% of phones sold world-wide are feature phones: Making calls and SMS’s are primary needs for the majority of users. For them the mobile phone is a means of communication with the added bonus for some that it can also be used to connect to the Internet. Banking services for the unbanked, such as M-PESA have revolutionised the way people can send and receive money. In developing countries such as China and India, feature phone growth will still be massive for many years to come. Quad core high performance phones become irrelevant, for most users, in such a market.

Gaming: Then there is the youth and gaming market – their needs are much more specialised and require high performance and extreme technology. Here even a quad core is too slow!

Music: There is a major need for phones which can play music, with large storage space – and these phones largely replace MP3 and other music players.

Camera Replacements: For many users, their smartphone also replaces a camera – and for these users smart phones are their phones of choice.

Business: The business user has specific needs. In South Africa, the BlackBerry rules supreme, although the iPhone and Android phones feature strongly. These phones need Exchange Server connectivity, email push, easy texting and email editing and the ability to run videos and show pictures. Most smartphones fit into this category.

Youth Market: Where youth can afford it, BBM is the communication method of choice, although MXit is almost universal amongst the youth. Messaging, music, pictures, YouTube and Facebook are the features most sought after. Phones are also seen as fashion accessories, so young people are very brand and model conscious.

Finally we have the Techno-geeks – and they just want the best gizmos and gadgets on the market. They will never be satisfied with anything the manufacturers produce!

The current mobile market is ultra-competitive, changing all the time and difficult to define. But one thing is clear, the mobile phone will be part of our lives for the foreseeable future, and it is rapidly becoming the alternative to a desktop computer for many users. For businesses the message is simple – ignore the mobile market and you are likely to become part of history, not part of the future.

Lex's Techno Talk

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Cellular Tyranny

Do you know any person, over 20 and under 65, and not totally incapacitated, who does not own or does not have access to a mobile phone?

Long heralded as the most powerful communication tool in the history of the world, the cell phone has put international communication in the hands of potentially every breathing humanoid on planet earth, and probably in space in the not too distant future. In the process, we are drowning under a deluge of information which no one is capable of assimilating or coping with. But we cannot claim to be uninformed, as long as we do not intentionally avoid the information tsunami.

But what is the broader picture? The all-pervasive impact of the mobile phone in every nook and cranny of our social milieu is undeniable. It is virtually impossible to have a conversation or meeting with someone without an intrusive phone message or call diverting attention away from whatever is being discussed or talked about. People cannot focus on tasks, other people or activities without the inevitable ping, buzz or vibration alerting you to someone out there demanding to be heard, noticed or responded to. Even when it comes to relaxing – silence, meditation, day dreaming or spending quality time with a partner – we are never alone – there is always a mobile phone hiding in the shadows waiting to pounce when we least expect it or want it. But can we ignore the hand of mobile? Oh no! Reply, respond, text… we obey without hesitation to avoid missing that important message or call. And most importantly – we are filled with fear and guilt when we ignore the clarion call – that irritating melody or chirping sound – which calls us to obey.

Yes. We are servants of a new order. We are obedient and subservient disciples. Our worship is unfaltering. We are in bondage to the universal cellular signal. Dare we become apostates and break free? Have you ever been able to leave your cell phone at home – and gone out for the day, or to visit a friend, or gone for a long walk in the forest or along the beach. Will you be wracked with guilt and fear about that message or call you dare not miss….?

Try it. You may be pleasantly surprised by the liberation and freedom you feel.

Or… you may be so tense and distraught at what you may be missing… that you will not be able to rest or enjoy yourself. If that is the case, you might need a cellular detox. Or you need to admit that you are addicted.

A cell phone is like alcohol. Great to enjoy in moderation, but a raging beast when it gets out of control and takes over your life. It takes discipline to switch it off when you are working, or visiting, or needing to take note of the real world around you, as opposed to the mini world calling for your attention. The need for discipline and cellular control has led to the development of creative alternatives to control your phone.

Probably one of the best applications out there is AwayFind. It will manage your emails and calendar alerts and has iPhone and Android apps. It prevents you checking your emails every 5 minutes – and ensures you receive important alerts via SMS, Voice Calls or via installed apps. The program also monitors your calls and messages and can intelligently help you customise the application to determine your important calls and those you can attend to later. Not only does it sort emails, it can notify you of topics you are following and emails from people you are meeting via a calendar alert. This is really worth looking at – free for 30days, and on a basic plan – but will cost from about R 40 per month for more advanced features.

Mobile phones can be a blessing – and have revolutionised communication and business efficiency – but ensure that you own your phone and not your phone owning you!

Lex's Techno Talk