"Mobile phones are not just bad browsers on resource-constrained devices with crappy connectivity and non-free voice"

So says Janne Jalkanen, and it's a beautiful statement. I try to communicate this over and over again in my daily life - friends, coworkers, family - the rest of the world seems to get this intuitively, but the U.S., especially The Valley, just can't seem to get it into their heads. I can hear them thinking the above thoughts whenever I'm talking to them.

Janne continues:

This is something we Nokians keep iterating over and over. But as I uttered those words, enraged at nobody in particular, I realized that I lack the proper explanation on what really makes a phone different from a laptop with Skype. And if I can't figure it out, then maybe these people are right. Maybe mobile phones should just be treated like computers with tiny screens? I have a few explanations, though not many: Charlie explains my thoughts well in his article, so let me just reiterate quickly: mobile phones are mostly background devices, whereas a laptop has a tendency of consuming all your attention, becoming a foreground device. The usage patterns are fundamentally different: A mobile phone is always on, always connected, always with you.

Janne was responding to Charlie Shick's rant about how bad this year's SuperNova Mobile Apps Panel which is now available as a podcast over at ITConnections. I definitely agree, but you know, I think SuperNova is doing a wonderful job, actually! Their lack of even talking about mobility last year is what caused me to suggest the Mobile Monday meetups in response. This year it seems their complete ignorance of the subject is spurring a bunch of conversation on the topic which is helping educate me more on the topic of mobility. Great job guys! :-D

Charlie continues Janne's analysis of mobility here:

Therefore, the mobile is always with you in a way no other device is. In that way, it is a personal device, a part of you, all the time, and is easily integrated into your lifestyle, the flow of your life.

And here�s, I think, a key concept (from Janne) that snapped into place the whole thought: the phone sits in the background, waiting until you need it. Then - a call comes in, an item comes into view that is great for a video or photo, a calendar reminder goes off - and you make the choice to bring it into the foreground.

Successful mobile devices are ones that are background devices that don�t force themselves into the foreground. Background activities can be listening to music, waiting for appointment reminders, carrying snippets of actionable data (contact info, calendar, some notes, a to-do list), and waiting for a call or SMS.

I *love* the concept of foreground and background, Charlie goes on to make some hard distinctions, but I think this is the core idea. As a mobile applications developer, I think my main challenge is to figure out how to bring your mobile phone to the foreground, but like Charlie said, in a way that's not forced. I've been saying similar things in my evangelism that mobile phones are "push" devices, not "pull". Meaning that you need to prompt users to use your apps, otherwise it just sits in their pockets. This to me is the key of the Blackberry's success. However, the idea of foreground and background is really a much more refined version what I'm trying to say: A compelling mobile app propels the mobile phone into the foreground in the most helpful way possible.

People constantly say, "I just want my mobile to make phone calls," Right? Well the answer to this is in the quotes above: "Your phone is always with you, wouldn't it be nice if helped do other things as well? Inform? Entertain? Assist you and remind you? You're lugging the thing around 24/7 anyways, as long as it's there it might as well be useful!" This is the thing, most people don't realize mobile phones can do all that, and most U.S. developers just look at it as an anemic platform unworthy of their time, just like Janne said. But it's not! It's this great device sitting idle in the pockets of billions of people, all day every day, just waiting to be put to work! Let's give it something to do! Now is the time!

Cool beans. I love it when I get a new perspective on mobility.


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