Friday, February 06, 2009


The next step for mobile phones?

The Times wonders, “Can the Cellphone Industry Keep Growing?”:

Analysts and investors are beginning to ask whether the industry can continue growing. The challenge is both simple and daunting: how to expand when more than half of the six billion people on the planet already have phones. And even in developing countries where there are underserved markets, subscribers spend less on phones and services.

On the surface, it sounds like that makes sense, but here: many, many people have cars, computers, televisions, and all sorts of other things, but we’re not suggesting that the time is past for growth in selling these products. Car sales go through periods of ups and downs, of course, owing to their price tags and the price of fuel. But people do eventually want new ones.


The old ones wear out, and the new ones have features that people want. Snazzy new design, innovations in the technology, and new, hot features are what convince people to replace the old clunker. Hold back the updates, and people will keep their old ones longer. Give them incentives to buy, and buy they will. And the same goes for mobile phones.

How many people had phones when the iPhone came out? How many bought iPhones anyway? It quickly became the “must have” device, because it showed innovation in obvious ways.

It won’t take another iPhone to push the market again. But it will take real motion, not just production of iPhone look-alikes, devices that just remind us that the iPhone is what everyone really wants to have. I love the BlackBerry devices, but I’ve had a look at the Storm, and I’m underwhelmed. It’s trying to be an iPhone, but it does it poorly. As is usual with these sorts of copies, they’ve come up with a thing or two that’s better than the iPhone, but on the whole it still falls short.

Mobile phones are a long way, now, from being phones, of course. They are that, but they’re also address books, calendars, note pads, email and instant-messaging devices, music players, web browsers, cameras, and toothbrushes. OK, not toothbrushes, but my dentist would probably like it if they were. They do nearly everything for us, and yet the challenge is for them to do more.

Let’s look for the next innovation. And on the way, let’s make changes that are incremental, yet significant, giving buyers reasons to buy new.

If the industry can’t do that — if it keeps trying to sell the same stuff we already have, with little changed but the name — then it deserves to wither.

1 comment:

scouter573 said...

There are some who argue that the "netbook" is the next big thing - everyone will want to have a 10-inch-diagonal baby laptop for browsing the web and reading email. I think those people have lost it. They are gadget-geeks. I love gadgets, too, but netbooks are underpowered, too tiny to type on, and expensive. Yes, expensive when you can get a laptop for less than $100 more (same price when on sale). Who wouldn't prefer a 15-inch screen over a 10-inch?

But!, I hear you cry, but what about the portability? The netbooks are so much smaller than a real laptop. Have you ever browsed the web on an iPhone? Beautifully done. Compare the boot time of an iPhone to a Windows laptop or netbook? Instant vs. ages. Compare the connectivity of an iPhone to a netbook? Always-connected vs. struggle-with-WiFi. The iPhone wins even on battery life. I continue to believe that we are going to cram everything useful into a real laptop/desktop and an iPhone-like device. You won't need an intermediate thing.

The gadget-geeks will move on to some other flashy device and the netbooks will be a forgotten fad. GPS-controlled toothbrush, anyone? Or a six-way power wallet with an automatic change-sorter for nine different currencies? A movie hat with 3D direct-injection neuron interface? Personal portable Smell-o-vision! And we'll compare stories about past techno-fads.

Oh, you had a netbook? How nice. I had a pet rock. The pet rock was so much cooler and the batteries lasted forever.