2006 Predictions 17 and 18

17. Mobile payments still won’t take off outside Asia.

18. Presence, or some sort of availability management software/system will be a hotly desired feature by the end of the year.

The mobile phone is a wonderful thing. It lets us make calls and send text messages and check our e-mail and all sorts of other things pretty much any time we want, from any place.

The mobile phone is an awful thing. It interrupts us with phone calls, text messages and e-mails all the time, no matter where we are.

Thus the problem. There’s a significant need for a balance to be struck between the two, putting people in control of the inbound communications on their phones while still taking full advantage of all the different ways in which they can communicate. With calls, it’s easy — put your phone on silent, let the voicemail pick up if you don’t want to answer. Texts make things a little more difficult: you can simply ignore text messages, but in many cultures, there’s an expectation that texts will be immediately answered. So if somebody sends you a text, and you don’t respond, what will they infer? Things become even similarly complicated when e-mail, IM and other services get added in.

It’s easy to be overwhelmed by all of this. There’s always the solution of just turning your device off, but to do so means being unplugged from the network, whether it’s a social network, a work one, or something else. The best solution would be able to control how people are able to reach us at any given time, while communicating to them our current level of responsiveness.

I’ve had several friends tell me that their employers have been willing to get them Blackberrys or similar devices, and they’ve asked me my thoughts. The first thing I say is that while I think those kinds of devices are great and fun and useful, along with all their benefits comes an unspoken expectation that since you can receive your email at any time, that means you can — and should — respond at any time. How that plays out depends on their job and their boss, really, but there’s always the question if the benefits are worth being able to be reached by work e-mail at any time. It’s an all or nothing question, but with presence, it wouldn’t have to be.

So as services like push e-mail and mobile IM become more pervasive, so will the desire to be able to control them. We should own our mobile phones, they shouldn’t  own us — and there’s a great opportunity for companies that can crack this.

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