Thursday, March 6, 2008

Simplicity, will be key to success with Mobile Applications

These days there is a lot of buzz about the newest applications that are available or coming for the mobile phone. Hundreds of companies are getting venture funding for developing the next set of applications for the mobile device. Much of the focus here is on delivering fragmented applications that take the user away from the core phone use. Any application developed for the phone has to consider the core phone use and be designed specifically for the limitations of the device with respect to the form factor and usability. Fact is, typing on the small key board makes it more difficult for people to have to enter a lot of information or click through many levels of menus to get the information that they require. Applications need to keep power consumption in mind. As much as the battery life has improved, graphic intensive applications are draining them already. One of the fundamental issues that need to be accomplished is that the software for the mobile device has to be designed from the device out, not the desktop/internet in. It is not about having the internet on your phone. The application designed for a mobile device should allow access to all the information that a person normally wants at their fingertips, at the time that they want it, without having to search for it. Tie in location, and time and context and my mobile phone should do all the work for me. I don’t want coolness of an application to drain out the battery and keep forcing me to tether myself to a plug-point frequently.

On the other hand, the current crop of mobile social networking platforms do NOT enhance interpersonal communication or reduce the clutter of asynchronous communication. They only add more distraction and noise and completely drown out meaningful communication. Recently I have talked to some Myspace and Facebook users, who claim to have over 800 contacts. I probed further to note that the core group of people that they communicate with is very limited are listed on their mobile devices and after a while the interaction with all these contacts on facebook and myspace also gets limited. Now translate that to mobile. Would you really put up with more noise on your mobile device? Ask yourself if the unbounded network that mostly becomes irrelevant over time is what you really want to use the device for. Recently I saw an ad for Facebook on an iphone; Novelty YES. Usefulness ZERO. What personal value does that add to anyone’s daily routine, especially on the mobile device? Does having access to Facebook on your mobile device really enhance personal productivity? A “boredom-response” application does not enhance productivity.

Yahoo! also announced onePlace™ (to be released Q2 – 08) claiming that it brings together all your interests, passions and important information into a single location, creating a rich, highly personalized experience around it for you. What will that do to power consumption on the device if it has to constantly bring loads of data to your device?

Other mobile widget apps offer to take web based content from a variety of sources, restructure the data and then push so called customized content to the phone throughout the day. All they do is offer yet another fragmented application of force fitting the web based information infrastructure onto the mobile device. Relevance and context are once again left far behind.

It is very important to note that coolness of an application is not necessarily monetizable in the mobile world. Ability to provide value to the general user and designing with respect for the form-factor of the device is imperative. Connecting relevant people and the pertinent information behind them is what is needed. Successful applications for the mobile world will be those that keep it simple and relevant.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Make My SmartPhone Smarter

I have been thinking about this and I wonder why my mobile phone can't do more for me. I want to delegate more work to my phone. I want to tell my phone in advance all of my interests, tastes, likes and dislikes and want it to constantly scan things out there for me instead of sitting idle all day waiting to send or receive a call or email. I want to be able to just pick up the phone at any time and have the information that I normally look for instantly available. Well I have a smart phone with more processing power on it than some of the first Rockets that went into outer space. You would think that it can do more.

Current Mobile Phone use model: Most people use their mobile device to mainly talk, send & receive txt messages & email, listen to voicemail, access & browse a few websites, take pictures and video etc. Most of this activity requires a lot of keystrokes on that little form factor keyboard. It is difficult to type even for someone experienced in typing away like me. Yes, the iPhone has eliminated the keyboard and gone with the bolder touch screen version. Maybe that's the way to go in the future. However some people don't like the iPhone specifically for that because their fingers are too big or their nails get in the way. That’s a discussion for another day.

Let's get back to the original conversation. The current crop of applications for the mobile devices that are out there get or retrieve information from some place when you click on a link or a news item. You are forced sometimes to go from one application to another to get all the data that you want. I don’t like to leave one application to another to get the things I want. I want a better phone and I want it to be constantly updating itself of things that I care and follow and discard items when I either move out of a certain location or a certain time has passed. How do I go about getting this? and what are all the things that I want it to do?

I want my phone regardless of which make, model, OS, network, carrier or technology to be able to keep me updated on certain things that I most care about. Now first: what do I care about. Well for starters the most important thing on my phone is my contact list. If someone made it in there, then they are family, friends, colleagues or businesses. All of whom or which I interact on a daily basis or with a certain frequency. This small bounded relevant network is most important to me. Do I care about other people beyond this network? Yes I do, I may meet new people, interact with them from time to time, however if they become important enough or relevant to my personal, professional or social life, then they move into my address book on my phone. Are you all with me so far? OK good!

Now think about this. I am a busy person, highly efficient and I don’t have time to waste. I am sure you are in the same situation. So the things that I don’t like are calling someone to get to their Voicemail, or them having to call me a leave me a Voicemail. If I have to talk to someone, then I need to know if they are available for me. If they are busy then I don’t want to call them. If I knew they were busy then I want to send them a quick Voice note (not text) asking them to call me when they were free. But I want to do this without having to dial their number, going through their voicemail system (precious seconds wasted) and then leaving a message. Wherever they are, however busy they are, they notice that I have a Vnote for them and listen to it or read (via voice to txt) it. Now how cool is that?

Now as for other types of mixed media needs I would have to categorize these based on certain people that I follow. If I wanted the general news, then I could just go to CNN, Fox or any one of the other major news networks. But let’s say that I want to track some one’s blog which I follow. I want my phone to have that information and then tell me that it’s ready to read. This person may or may not even be a contact on my address book, but they can exist as a named person in my contact list and anything and everything that I need to know about them (changes to their website, streaming video broadcast availability, hosted events) must be made available on my phone for me. Why do I need to go to the desktop and be forced to read through a whole lot of other stuff before I get to the component of the news that I care about. In addition I’d be subjected to advertisements that I am not really "interested" in and I don’t especially want to view them on my mobile device. I would never be interested in looking or clicking-on an ad on my mobile device unless it knew exactly what I wanted, where I wanted it and gave me some incentive to follow through with it.

On the other hand, the patterns in my life are not overly complicated. I'd like my phone to start learning about how I live my life. Yes, I want my smartphone to start tracking my moves so that a resident application can track all that and somehow I can take all that information feed it into a different application and learn something more about efficiency. Am I turning into an efficiency evangelist? No not really, I just want to constantly reform myself to be more efficient in the surroundings that I am presented with everyday. So let's say that I am in NYC, its 11:30 am and I just finished a meeting uptown and have to head to a downtown meeting in 2 hours. I want my phone to tell me based on my current location, my next destination, my interests, the traffic situation along my with need to be replenished with food(energy) what are all the things out there for me to do in that time. I could search for things to do, but what fun is that when i have to do all the work. I want an application that suggests things that I should do, in the available timeframe and still make my meeting on time.

Oh Gotta go, my phone's telling me that if I leave right now, i could pick up a gizmo that I always wanted at 30% off at a store on the way to my afternoon tennis game.

Be in the "know", when on the go.

Delegate to your smartphone and make it do more for you.

Coming soon to a phone near you.