Mobile Multimedia


Some quick mobile thoughts before another day of work/apartment hunting.

Nokia just launched their 7700, which shows Nokia's hand a bit in that they consider the next generation of mobile phones to be all about multimedia. I'm not a big fan of the 7700's form factor: pen based handhelds aren't nearly as convenient as ones with keyboards, and after playing with the N-Gage, I feel that talking on a phone that sticks out of your head like a Taco is just dumb and uncomfortable. But the kernel of their new strategy is right on target.

I've said this before months ago, but since I'm sure it's been long forgotten I'll repeat it here again. The most incredible thing about my Nokia 3650 is the fact that it can do video. The games are okay, the camera is nice, but the videos are amazing. When I show someone my new cool smart phone, the first thing I show them is the video to make sure I get the oohs and ahhs right off the bat. This is what separates the Symbian based phones that are out there from much of the competition, whereas the basic multimedia models like the SonyEricsson T610 are focused on games and some basic picture taking, these phones are truly able to both consume and create multimedia.

Think about it for a moment, when has a recording device been so easy to use, so accessible and so portable? It's incredible how much power there is, but right now it's only a few people that have these phones so we're not seeing much use of it. This is going to change quickly though. When people have the technical capabilities they use it. People now are really taking advantage of the fact they have the camera on their phone with them wherever they go. A picture of a Big Boy restaurant may not have been something picture worthy a year or so ago, even with a digital camera, but now it's worth a shot just for fun.

But just like 60s poetry (where it was said that a lot more was being written than read) moblogs are uncompelling - lots of people taking shots, but not a lot of people actually interested in viewing them. Have you checked most of Textamerica's photo blogs? Woop-de-doo. Unlike normal weblogs which can be incredibly interesting and both drive links to and from the sites promoting the quality and the web as a whole, pages of moblogged pictures of random people and things online do *nothing* for me. I see a photo blog, and maybe page through a couple of photos, but nothing makes me think to return and never have I wanted to subscribe, and I hadn't even *thought* about viewing the photo sites on my phone.

Multimedia, however, is the thing that will change moblogs from boring to compelling. Audio and video, baby. *That's* when moblogs are going to become as interesting as regular weblogs. Both on the web *and* on the phone. It's a timing thing - as multimedia phones start to hit the market in bigger numbers over the next year (500 million phones are slated to be sold in 2004, and half of them will have cameras) people will start creating the first multimedia moblogs. At the same time, advanced data services will start to arrive so that posting and viewing this content will actually be possible on your phone, as well as on your computer.

Here's why I think consuming multimedia on the phone will be a big hit: It's about distractions. Every time I try to view a video or presentation on my computer, I get distracted. I start opening up other web pages, or get an email or something and lose track of the video or audio. On my TV that doesn't happen because there's only one thing going on, and I'm in a place that's meant for viewing (my couch). Same thing for mobile multimedia: If I'm on a train or a bus or in a doctor's office or driving down the street, that's the place where I can be dedicated to a task such as viewing a video or listening to a recording. There's little else to distract from the enjoyment of that experience. This is why mobile games are so popular now. When you have that extra moment, you play the game and you can focus on that game.

I imagine how mobile multimedia could be used very simply like this: You get to the clinic and there's at least 4 people waiting ahead of you. You've got 20 minutes (at least) of cooling your heals. You could pick up a 3 month-old magazine and start flipping, or you can pull out your smart phone and see what sort of entertainment possibilities there are. Now, you can thumb through the commercial offerings - say the latest episode of Friends or reruns of old Seinfeld episodes - or you can check your aggregator to see which of the multimedia moblogs you follow have been updated. You see a couple titles which are interesting, so you stream them to your device, or if we're not talking 2005 (which is when 3G will start to be common) you could click on the videos and request that they get downloaded in the background while you read some news. When you finally get the content, you sit and watch something which could have been created that very day, in less time than it's taking me to write this post, but be just as compelling.

The key to this is that you no longer need to lug the video camera around with you, transfer the recording to your PC, edit and compress to post video online. The newer multimedia devices will do all this automatically for instant posting. A movie studio and data center in your pocket (TM). And once people have that power, they'll start to use it to create interesting content.

A year ago, I dismissed audio-blogging because of the distraction issue. Audioblogs aren't compelling because of the problems with concentrating on just one thing while sitting in front of a PC because you end up going off to other things. Photo blogs as well aren't very interesting to view - it's the online equivalent of the family scrapbook - and we all know how exciting *that* is when your friends whip them out at parties. Ugh. However, being portable suddenly makes multimedia weblogs all that much more interesting.

Now instead of that post about how cool last night's party and fireworks was, or a blurry picture, instead wouldn't it be great to see a 4 minute video of the event? Instead of that post about the weird sound coming from your engine, what about a full-on video of it? Obviously not everything translates to video, but there's so many things in day to day life that really could merit a quick little video for friends and family.

Anyways, that's my gut feeling: Mobile multimedia will be *big*. Not just in the sense that you can watch movies on a phone, but that you can watch movies *created* on a phone. The ease of use in creating and posting that the new devices allow and the fact that you can consume this content anywhere you go is going to combine to make it the killer mobile app. Also look for the telecom carriers to push it like *crazy* because they will eventually all realize that their business is simply selling Kilobytes and little more, and what better way to get people to start consuming those bytes but streaming multimedia?

So anyways, Nokia's 7700 is fugly and big, but it's definitely on the right track.


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