The Mobile Social World of Presence

May 29, 2008

in iphone, Mobility, Strategic Foresight

I’ve been thinking recently about my connectivity and mobility and one of the reasons I keep coming back to it is the dissonance I have when looking at the two mobiles I use most often. There’s now been many comparisons made between the Nokia N95 and the iPhone. Both best in class so to speak. However, I’ve struggled to completely understand why the iPhone beats the N95 (for me and I’m also really betting for many others). The N95 ostensible has it all. Better camera, streaming bluetooth, video, decent headphone jack, better speakers and general sound etc. It has messaging and mail etc. I could go on and the comparisons which have been made before.

However, the real reason in my mind that the iPhone wins is it’s ability to “stay in social touch”. The email, the SMS, the browsing experience has enabled much of the behavior that social networkers have mastered already on the laptop or desktop. It’s not about the technology, it is about how the device helps you socialize.

Till now the mobile was a “cameraphone”, “smartphone”, and perhaps a messaging device (particularly blackberry). The enhancements have often focused at making it a better cameraphone and increasingly on uploading some of this content… eg photos to flickr. The activity focus has been on upload and send. Retrieval that isn’t pushed has been slow, difficult or frustrating whether web pages, podcasts, or even maps.

By contrast and perhaps as luck will have it… the iPhone is a social device. It fills the gaps in calls with keeping in touch. It is helping us keep in touch with the peripheral vision whether facebook updates, twitter streams, IM or other apps or browsing one may do. It’s also very easy to forward content (web pages etc from the iphone.

So the iPhone wins because it both keeps us in the flow and keeps us loosely connected. Perhaps a little like adding a “lurking” factor…. iPhone in hand I have a better sense of what my friends and colleagues are doing.. I am more connected without actually thinking about it or working at it. As someone who’s never used a Blackberry and yet observed the “connected” behavior that creates around email (like IM) it’s been a revelation.

Net Net. Devices that keep us more connected and “loosely connected” without pressuring us to wear a heads up display are going to win over those that just add a better camera. In the end it is about the conversations, the chatter, and the ability to engage wherever you are. I even find the iPhone works well as sort of a second screen… for glances at email updates, entering Twitter updates etc. In that way it is supplementing my desktop.

I think this socializing factor is probably true of the applications that will be developed for these devices. I said it above mobile devices are social. The more social they are the better they will perform. The iPhone demonstrates this is so many ways on top of the basic email, browsing, send a pic etc. The photo album, or the ability to view a video together or review music choices.

So are you making that mobile device more social? More playful? More engaging when with others? Is this socialization factor limited just to the mobile or should we think even more broadly about anything we carry with us? I have always loved the Nokia positioning of “connecting people”. Where once this was about technology and mobility, it now needs to reflect everything we’ve learned about social networking, social media and accelerating the flow of information. As few years ago I wrote a number of posts on “Presence”. This focused on that “sense of presence” a more tacit rather than explicit understanding. The devices that enable this “sense” in an open and unstructured format that can evolve are likely to be more successful at being social and sensitive to the users context and relationships.

We’ve seen some of this emerging already. Recently some blogs have referred to the new browser wars. Money was recently raised by a new browser startup while Mobile Safari has now been seen on a Samsung phone. Then we have Flock as the social browser etc. And yesterday we saw Android demoed on yet another large touch screen HTC mobile. I actually wonder whether in five years there will be a mobile in existence that has a keypad? Is viewing replacing texting, replacing calling, as the central focus of the mobile? If / As this happens then how does my new mobile change the relationship I have with all my other devices?

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