Here’s a concept that came up in conversation with Cisco a year or so ago, and which popped back into my consciousness due to the closing remarks of this week’s, always-a-winner Round-Up:
“And finally – a challenge for you. Dashing about in central
London, trying to find somewhere from which to file this
newsletter, the Round-Up managed to walk for a full 15 minutes
without finding a Starbucks. Can you beat that?”
Well, in all honesty, yes I can – finding WiFi in central London has been a nightmare, that is until I found that I could sit next to the window in the Oxford Street Borders cafe and hook into a (legal) free signal. Even when you can find a kosher link, there’s no guarantee you’ll be able to connect; if you get disconnected it’ll probably think you’re still logged in. Etc, etc.
But to the point. At the moment let’s face it, we feel hooked into the cyberstream only when we’re in front of a computer. When we’re out and about, we’re reduced to looking at the Web and our emails through a cloudy porthole, with voice access to the few people we’ve actually remembered to load onto our SIMs. A level of mobility we have, perhaps – in that we can be found wherever we are, and some form of communication can be made. True mobility however, the kind that service providers and app vendors (think: mobile video, or mobile CRM) are trying to push, will not really be possible until there is some critical level of access, for a critical number of people, in a critical number of ways.
Until there is ubiquity of connections, connectedness can only ever be sporadic. Connectedness – the feeling of joining in, the ability to link to thousands of applications and services in a way that we want, is still a distant dream for the mobile user (though realistically, they’re probably dreaming of other things right now). Laptop users can experience a level of mobility as they bounce from coffee shop to coffee shop, but even this is a long way from the what we’d need – you have to stop, sit down, switch on and connect before anything can happen, it’s hardly seamless.
Now, this may come across as a rant, but it isn’t meant to be. The point is, that when ubiquity is cracked, then we really can get on with mobility. The City of London experiement is one to watch or Google’s San Francisco plan. I particularly like the Google plan, with its two-tier service plan (free at lower speeds) – it fits with the “Wireless Pavement” idea I’ve been advocating for a while. The wireless pavement (sidewalk, guys) is the idea that it costs to lay a pavement, but it is delivered at a municipal level, for free because we all recognise the spin-off benefits. Neither do you pay to go in a mall, but these are enormously expensive to run. Of course you do pay, but not directly – you pay for a shirt, or a coffee, or a lampstand, and a cut from that goes towards the cost of the building, pavement, whatever! I must blog all that – perhaps I just did!
We digress. The lack of ubiquitous access is currently a bottleneck on progress, caused I suspect largely by incumbent service providers not wanting to release their traditional grip on the cost of access. They’re like the toll keepers of old, forcing everyone to travel down their own, pot-holed routes. The network is being forced wide open as we speak, and I fully expect this to lead to the nirvana of ubiquitous, seamless access, which in turn will lead to a whole raft of new innovation, new ways of connecting, new ways of doing things. I believe this is where connectedness will get really interesting, as the online and offline worlds, the voice and data networks merge.
Why should I get all excited about this? Because for a start, it is unexplored territory. I don’t know what will be the apps and services that rock people’s boats, or in what combination – all that chatter about location-sensitive services was largely driven as a revenue opportunity for the SP’s – there may be something in it but I’m not convinced it’s the “killer app”, or indeed whether there will be a killer app at all (though it would have been useful to know where a pertol station was, on more than one occasion!)I see “microwave oven” innovation – unique compinations of functionality that give whole new ways of doing things. The mashup applied to the PDA, perhaps. The opportunities are global – James has ranted on more than one occasion about the lack of innovation in Europe, but let’s remember that both the mobile and the open source revolutions started in Scandinavia.
Here’s one thought of how things might go – applied to the lowly address book. Add Plaxo-like updating, RSS-like feeds, Google maps, GPS and a reasonably powered PDA and the address book becomes a dynamic hub, changing in real time. The possibilities are endless – suddenly you can find out all the parties you haven’t been invited to, for example… perhaps we should leave that one there!