Argument for the Surburban Mobile

Here's a post from Mark Denovich from back in March that is quite perfect. Sorry I took so long to respond to this, but I just noticed it now in my referrers.

I still don't get it

I don't understand mobile phone-fetishists such as Mr. Russell Beattie. First when I see Symbian I see Sybian which causes considerable cognitive dissonance. But mainly because I can't imagine using a phone as something other than a phone... Well I guess I could, but I can't imagine working myself into a lather over it.

Maybe it's because I don't use public transportation. I'm rarely forced to sit around and kill time. But it's more likely that I don't want to be identified with geeks, urban hipsters, pathetic business types, and all the other assholes that over use their phones in public.

I had a "cell" phone about 6-7 years ago. I liked it, but I was poor and it was one of the first luxuries to go. My killer app at the time was "Hey, I'm driving down your street now..." No more parking and ringing doorbells when I was picking someone up.

I talked myself into buying a phone again earlier this year. Since I drive exclusively aging, self-maintained Italian sports sedans, having a phone handy is comforting (not that I've had to use it.) My killer app is more or less the same. It was nice to have when we purchased the house, but since then I haven't used it much, mostly just for the free long-distance. Still I'll probably get another for my wife and just dispose of our land line. With all the fees/taxes it's more expensive than having a 2nd mobile, plus it should make picking Deb up after work a bit easier to synchronize.

It's still just a phone.

So the easy answer would be, "yeah, Mark just doesn't get it." But that's just it, the easy answer. I think Mark has a valid point that is going to really affect the adoption rate of smartphones and services in suburban America. Mark is basically saying, "What does this phone do for me? All I need to do is talk and I don't have moments to play."

He's right on the money. Most Americans live in their car which don't mix well with cellphones. So what's Mark going to do with a fancy-shmancy new smartphone? Especially if he's not a gadget freak at all. Good question. It's a question that the American mobile industry needs to tackle in order to catch up to the rest of the world in this area, I admit. Here's my thoughts on the subject.

First off, the whole stigma of "talking on your phone in public" is going away in the U.S. Slowly but surely. It's a hold over from when the only people who had cellphones WERE the asshole rich-guys in their BMWs. When adoption rate of cellphones is up near 80-90% like here in Europe, you'll get the idea that it's no big deal. This is pretty amusing to me since I haven't heard that thought in a few years, but I recognize it as a true sentiment. Sorry if you're somehow still bugged by it, but come to Europe where meetings, purchases, or any number of other daily happenings are regularly interupted by quick cellphone calls and you'll get used to it pretty quick. So on that topic, I just have to say, "get over it." Americans are the last people to think like this on Earth. You don't mind people talking to their friends in public, right? It's the same thing, except there's a cellphone in the middle.

So the second thing is, yeah, it's a phone. And Mark said it himself that it would be great to help coordinate things if both he and his wife had one. That's the "killer app" right there. I won't ever say it's not. But beyond that, well, if you're not sitting around on a bus, what can you do with an smartphone?

Well, lots actually. Let me imagine the moments of my life when I lived in the suburbs of the U.S. - It doesn't have to be out in the middle of Oklahoma, it can be in LA or even Silicon Valley. Ever been to the Valley? There's no 'there' there (as they say). It's all just office buildings and housing tracts. Public transportation is horrible and the only real urban space is San Francisco, which is an hours drive North. There's no real place to use your phone there besides work (where you have your phone/computer already) and home. Maybe at lunchtime?

And this is one of the main reasons mobile culture hasn't spread to the U.S. as it has around the rest of the world. Where population density in Madrid is incredible, yet 15 minutes drive in any direction finds yourself in the middle of open fields, you can drive for several hours in any direction from the center of LA and not find yourself out of the sprawl. All that time you're in a car where your mobile is of less use than someone who's in a bus or on a metro.

All I see is opportunity in this. The reason I'm getting into a lather about all the mobile stuff is because of the potential of these devices and services more than the apps that are available right now. Every one of my Symbian apps is a bit buggy and my access to the internet is a bit constrained due to my browser. However, just the FACT that I can IM and FTP and send email and video and images and all that make me think of all the POSSIBLITIES that are out there for these phones. Someone just needs to come along and develop and package these things for suburban mobile users like Mark.

I sort of touched on this in my last post, but here again are things that would be interesting - in my mind - to a suburban mobile user if they were packaged and easily accessible by your handset:

  • Any voice app. MMS = "multimedia" messaging. Right now everyone's concentrating on sending video, but VOICE messages work just as well and are accessible while driving.
  • VoiceML is more a server-side app, but so is WAP. Combine VoiceML services with a speaker phone and that's a great app for your car. Movifone might be a good example.
  • Shopping Apps. The one place us Americans do get off our 220lb asses is in the mall. ANY easily used app that helps compare prices, organize lists, locate your wandering 12 year old, find sales, check store hours or pay for the goods is going to rule in the 'burbs.
  • Along these lines, your phone could talk to GPS to find your car where it's parked in HomeDepot's massive lot?
  • Telemetrics: There's a whole industry devoted to combining mobile tech with your car for things like maps, directions, emergency services, trip reporting, etc. etc. If these things were integrated into your phone as well (i.e. not a separate service, but your phone is the "hub") this would be another killer app
  • Speed Trap Reporting: If you've got a mobile that's hooked up to a GPS and the internet - you could mark where you saw that Statie and anyone else in the vicinty with their mobile connected could get audibly "pinged" to slow down.
  • Movie Listings... I always seem to be in the car when I decide I want to go see a movie and dialing Movifone is a slow-as-death form to do it. I'd rather stop at Starbucks and choose from a list.
  • Games - Are you telling me you're NEVER in a dentist office, the doctors, getting your muffler repaired, changing your snow tires, waiting to pick someone up, in the back seat of someone elses car on a long trip, or any OTHER waiting moment? These are all good places for games.
  • Sporting Events - want to keep track of scores from around the world, or just the up to the second percentages of the players, or see video of previous performances, etc. Or, hey, how about ordering a hotdog? Why not do it from your phone?
  • The PIM functionality will come in handy for just about everyone, but instead of having to remember your Palm or datebook, it just comes with you automatically on your phone. Dates, times, addresses, notes, lists, etc. All very important.
  • Home Surveilence: Want to check up on how things are back at the house? View streaming video from your phone.
  • Photos and Video: I don't see why being a surbanite would take away from wanting to take pictures of your friends while you're out having a meal or a drink. Sending it to a friend is cool as well.
  • Leisure Activities: Skiing, hiking, boating... all are good times to have a picture-phone handy.
  • Surely there's more...
  • [later...] Digital Push To Talk. Great app for the fam! Like CB for the 2000s except that there's no static and the range is anywhere on Earth.

The problem with the list above is that many services or apps aren't created yet. The phone companies are starting to lay that pipe down, now someone needs to come along and turn on the tap with compelling applications for suburban users. But I think that this stuff is going to come and that these phones are going to be just as popular in the U.S. as anywhere else. Maybe the killer apps will be different or maybe not, but its that the possiblities are endless and that's what's so exciting about all this stuff.


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