Fellow Web 2.0 Workgroup member Ajit Joakar has been creating an extensive series of posts over at his blog Open Gardens about Mobile Web 2.0 and how it is defined as well as how it compares to or differs from Web 2.0. Ajit’s work, which is very well thought out and truly comprehensive got me thinking about a presentation I gave last year at the Institute for Politics, Democracy and the Internet which is a part of George Washington University. I was part of a panel that was discussing mobile technology and how it could be used in the political realm.
When I gave the presentation it was estimated at that time (September 2005) that there were approximately 1.7 billion mobile handsets in use. By the end of December 2005 that number was thought to have exceeded 2 billion! By sheer rate of growth alone the mobile handset is the unparalleled winner when it comes to rapid adoption of a technology by the people of this planet. So too is the mobile phone a great technological equalizer for where the phone goes (into new communities) the rate of change in other areas increases quite dramatically and the socio-economic status of individuals that have acquired phones increases radically in comparison to economically matched peers that have not been fortunate enough to acquire phones.
The poorer a region is – both technologically and economically, the greater the impact mobile phones have on society, and in a few scattered places around the world where mobile phones have been adopted enterprising individuals have quite literally capitalized on their acquisition of a phone to vault themselves upwards economically by creating businesses out of letting their less fortunate contemporaries rent the phones – in essence becoming a one man, one phone telco.
Ray Anderson, CEO of the mobile content company Bango related to me his experience providing food and medicines to people in Timbuktu (yes, it really exists). According to Ray they have 3 things in commerce; goats, bundles of wood and prepaid wireless cards. You can guess which commands top dollar. And if you asked why in the world people living in such a primitive society would want or need a cell phone you wouldn’t be alone. I did.
It turns out that their reasons are not much different than ours although there is virtually no social use, people can suddenly get timely service by crossing a gap between locations that would have taken hours or days. In a place where the fastest means of transportation is on foot most of the time, the ability to transmit or receive a message from someone miles away is life altering.
So what does this have to do with Mobile 2.0?
Whereas Mobile Web 2.0 is all about the advanced capabilities associated with a specific subset of systems within a mobile device and particularly centered around some kind of web enabled interface Mobile 2.0 is more about the entirety of the device and its myriad and highly differentiated possibilities for interaction with the end user. In a nutshell, Mobile 2.0 is the superset of life altering functionality conveyed by a functioning mobile phone to that phone’s owner.
Mobile 2.0 is not device dependent. There is no measuring stick of functionality that is a determinant as to whether or not a mobile phone is or is not a Mobile 2.0 device. All functioning phones today are Mobile 2.0. It isn’t what the phone does, so much as what is being done with the phone that has lead us to Mobile 2.0. This definition has the advantage of extensibility – a developing country experiences Mobile 2.0 by virtue of the changing socio economic status of those that own phones. In Japan or Korea Mobile 2.0 can be seen in the development of entirely new forms of entertainment oriented content for display on mobile devices and in the US we can see the birth of Mobile 2.0 in the roll-out of presence enabled services and phone-based navigational services.
Unlike Web 2.0 or its extension to the mobile web, perhaps properly called WAP 2.0 or 2.0 Micro, Mobile 2.0 is almost as much about the end user as it is about the device or the service whereas Web 2.0 doesn’t exist with out the combination of the two. In a similar vein, Mobile 2.0 is morphologically amorphous – the form of the device is constantly changing and shifting. As Walter Mossberg said at a keynote last year, Mobile is the most important new technology but we have no idea what it is going to become.
I think this last is a very important point. While we might be amazed at the features or functionality that people are getting out of the PC and the broadband network these days, we’re still very much constrained by the form of the device, the form of the interface, the limitations of the network and the input and output devices that make up the medium. Not so Mobile 2.0 where the limits to what this device can be are as wildly varied as one could possibly imagine. Witness Nokia’s take on the technology, both in regards to the devices that are actually for sale and especially in their stable of future-oriented developmental devices.
In the future, Mobile 2.0 devices might be built into our clothing, our physical environment, or even, in the form of things like Çƒ?smart dustÇƒ? in the vary air we breath. For all that, Mobile 2.0 might even be cybernetic ÇƒÏ that is part of our physical bodies. IÇƒÙd seriously consider having the ability to instantaneously communicate with people on the other side of the globe physically implanted in my body just as I would love IR visual capabilities or super-acute hearing.
(AuthorÇƒÙs note: this is the first in a multi-part series on Mobile 2.0. The next segment will focus on the state of the technology today, itÇƒÙs primary uses and why this matters. The third and final part of this review will focus on where this technology will lead in this authorÇƒÙs opinion and what form the device will take in the next decade.)