The Quiet Revolution
MocoNews is a bit sick of Trip Hawkins of Digital Chocolate, but the fact is that he gets it. I spent all weekend at Camp Foo "spreading the mobile religion" and still didn't express the idea as well as he did in this interview with USA Today:
It's not about the technology or audio/visual immersion. But it's ubiquitous. Within a couple of years, there will be 2 billion people carrying around cell phones, most little computers with color screens. It's a quiet revolution. A lot of people don't even realize they are carrying a computer.
Everything about that is right and I've said it all in various ways here before. It's not just about the ability of the phones, but about their ubiquity. Remember back in the mid 90s when everyone was going nutso about the economies of scale provided by the Web? Well, they haven't seen nothing. Right now the industry is on track to sell 650 million new phones in 2004. That's over 20 per second (up from 19 just a few months ago). There are already double the number of cellular customers than there are internet users, and those numbers are rising by double digit percentages every month. And notice the different terms I used: customer vs. user. Each one of those 1.5 billion people are paying customers. The mBoom may be quiet, but it's no less explosive.
I won't say that it's all utopia. To take real advantage of all these little computers out there, data prices need to drop considerably. This morning I saw in The Reg that even though data prices are falling in Europe, the cost for GPRS data are *still* hovering around $18 per megabyte. That's *insane*. I pay $30 for all I can eat mobile data and only $0.001 per KB of tethered data (a buck a meg). For everyone else, the cost is a real disincentive to use data services. Not all services, since SMS is still pretty reasonable and if you're creating J2ME games, all you need is that one download and you're happy. But real opportunities (to me) are in mobile data services and right now it's being hindered in many parts of the world.
Ahh, but that's sort of a good thing. The fact that we've got unlimited plans here in the U.S. gives us an advantage of leapfrogging some of the other regions. Services that are out of the question to European users would be reasonable to anyone using American carriers with decent data plans. Faster data rates are here, the phones are arriving, the plans are laid out. It's fertal ground.
Those two billion customers are all slowly moving towards using mobile data services. Think of a big bell curve slowly moving through the millions and millions of mobile phone owners. Those on the leading EDGE like me are enjoying new services that the rest of the curve will think is quite normal in about six months to a year. That's great lead time for developers and start ups to get off their ass and develop some kick-ass products and services. Then as the rest of the world gets around to all you can eat data plans, we'll be there waiting. Like I've repeated time and time again, there's going to be a time, very soon, when more people are accessing the internet via their mobile devices rather than PCs. I think what's going to surprise a lot of people his how quickly that's going to happen.
But even if that day is farther off than I think it is, there's going to be so much movement in the meantime. Text services have the advantage of being insanely easy to use and totally ubiquitous. J2ME games are still compelling and fun. And maybe someone will actually make some linking software that will take advantage of our PCs and wired connections in a better way as well (think downloading videos and music to go). Lots of amazing opportunities out there.