September is the Month of Mobility at Read/Write Web, I've decided. This month I'm going to explore the intersection between the Web and mobile devices. Principally mobile phones and PDA's, although there's also a trend of convergence of those two devices into "smart phones". And let's not forget new ground-breaking devices such as the iPod, the Tablet, and the Sony Librie eBook reader. I'm interested in how all these mobile devices, not just intersect, but collide with the Web. For often it's messy, as I've already discovered with my experiments with Bluetooth. It will get simpler though and the iPod is perhaps showing the way for all mobile devices in this regard.
Why the sudden interest in mobility as a theme in web technology? Simple, I've just got a new mobile phone to replace my old 90's model (which last week a friend bluntly labeled "a brick"). My new phone, a Sharp GX15, is pxt/video and bluetooth-enabled.
Now the truth is, I've taken far too long to come around to the mobile phone revolution. This is particularly ironic, as I used to work for Ericsson - one of the world's biggest cellphone and mobile internet companies. I was there when WAP was in its infancy and broadband hadn't yet arrived to properly support it. At that point in my life, I was pre-occupied with the network computer version of the Web and so I was busy learning ASP and designing portals and so forth. So WAP was a curiosity at best for me back then.
Mobile Devices Market Penetration
Fast-forward to 2004 and mobile phones rule the technology world. According to MyMobile magazine, 70% of New Zealanders have a mobile phone. Not bad considering it was only 10% in 1995! ZDNet reports that Europe has "between 60 percent and 70 percent" mobile phone penetration, the US has about 50% penetration, Japan 60%, Korea 70% and Singapore 80%. China is a growth market - currently it's only at 20% but it's predicted to reach nearly 25% by end of this year. Given China's huge population, that is a significant number of people!
PDA penetration by comparison is low. It was around 7% in the USA at the beginning of 2004, according to Jupiter Research. So you can see why PDA manufacturers like Palm want to get into the "smart phone" market - the future is mobile phones.
Another one to make this point is DrunkenBlog, who says that the iPod's days are numbered:
"An iPod Mini is going to make a much better mobile music player than your cell phone. But when your cell phone has 5 gigabytes of storage and bluetooth headphones.... the writing is on the wall here."
Hype becomes Reality
So it seems all the hype I was in the middle of at Ericsson at the dawn of the 21st century is beginning to come to pass in 2004. Mobile phones are the centre of convergence - voice, data, Web, music, eBooks, PIMs, email, you name it.
I'll be investigating this convergence over the coming weeks and I'll mostly focus on where Web mobility is at circa 2004, rather than speculate about the future. On that note, I've now subscribed to Flickr and have set up (yet another) blog - ricmac photos. This will be used as a fun space for me to upload a bunch of try-hard artsy-fartsy photos. Warning: if you're looking for photos with real artistic merit, you shouldn't look at my photoblog :-) Try Cristian's instead, it is much better.
In my next post, I'll explore some of the current technical issues surrounding Web mobility. We're still at a stage where people have to technically configure their various mobile devices and synch things together with a variety of "loosely-coupled" applications. So I'll talk about this in my next post.