Saturday, July 15, 2006

The uniqueness of mobile devices as a platform

About a year ago, I searched on the web for opinions on what are the killer apps of mobile devices. By its original definition, a killer app is a piece of software that someone would want so bad, they'd be willing to buy the hardware just to run it. But now, 'killer app' is used simply as a piece of software lots of people will use. I was curious about what people predicted.

I read all sorts of things; that mobile gaming, ringtones, web browsing were the killer apps. Others lauded that voice--being able to make calls--is the only killer app you need for mobile phones.

I beg to differ. I think with every new platform, people first make copies of what they could do in the old platform before really realizing what the new platform has to offer. From the paper platform to desktop platform, people first made spreadsheets and word processors before making web browsers. Same thing happened when we had the web platform.

Mobile devices has a unique set of characteristics. While other platforms may share some of the characteristics, they don't have all of them.
  • They are mobile (obvious)
  • They are always connected
  • They can get location-based information
  • They are almost always on a person, and considered personal by the owner
  • They are the gateway to other people all the time
Verizon and other carriers currently offer boring services, such as ringtones, wallpapers, video casting, and weather. They might take advantage of the first three attributes, but I feel the real power of the mobile platform is its decentralized nature, and ability to create social spaces based solely on the fact that they're always on a person. And in essence, other people, in whatever form, is what we like to interact with.

Dodgeball and Twttr are moving in the correct direction. But I think there can be much more done with it. Decentralized messaging that moves people to emergent actions would be something like a next step.

A more concrete example would be an application on your mobile device that tells you what everyone you care about is doing locally--either locally in time, in proximity, or in your social network. But this information would have to be presented in a way that creates a positive feedback, so that the more people are doing something, the more other people will do it.

I'm going to do some hand waving here, as I don't know exactly what would compel people to participant. It could be something as simple as showing how many other people are doing it. However, the point is, if this positive feedback mechanism was in place, you could have Digg and Slashdot effects happening in the real world.

Imagine that.

But if it got out of hand, it wouldn't be good. Mobbing is never good in real life, and I've warned about the tyranny of the masses in a previous post. But I think that's the potential power of mobile devices.

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