Mobile phones and navigation: I've seen this movie before

Reuters published an article saying that navigation features are the hot new data function on mobile phones. News.com picked it up, and by now I'm sure it's all over the Internet.

Which is fine, and very exciting. But I keep remembering all the other things that were supposed to be the hot new data functions on mobile phones. Remember mobile video? Wasn't that the cool new thing just a couple of months ago? And e-mail? And MMS? And PIM? And WAP? And so on?

And despite all that effort and all that investment, at a briefing a week ago Nokia said that mobile billings are 84% due to voice, 10% SMS, and everything else accounts for just 6%.

Maybe navigation will be different. It certainly makes intuitive sense to me that navigation should be a hot feature in a mobile device. You need navigation when you're on the go, and that's when you have your mobile device with you. Reuters quotes the market analysis firm Canalys as predicting that the mobile navigation market will grow by about two-thirds this year.

And yet, and yet...

I remember a couple of years ago, Canalys predicted that navigation features in PDAs would be the hot new thing. And they were -- for a couple of quarters, until the market collapsed. We have this weird collective ability to forget all the past disappointments when we see a cool-looking new feature. We forget that cool doesn't sell, and nice doesn't sell. What sells is a comprehensive, simple solution to a compelling need that millions of people have.

I sometimes feel as if all of us watching the mobile market are a bit like Judy Jetson. Remember her? She was the teenage girl in the Jetsons TV show family, the one who always had a new crush every episode. "Ooooh, he's the dreamiest," she would gush. And if poor old George Jetson ever asked what happened to the boy from last week, Judy would roll her eyes and say, "daddy, you're old, you just don't understand."

So maybe I'm getting old.

7 comments:

tomsoft said...

I agree, sounds a new eldorado for players in that space. Market is already crowded. But I still belive that LBS will be part of the mobile experience, just like camera is now on every handset. Navigation will be only be a small part of this market....

Bob Russell said...

I think it's pretty clear that we're seeing new features, but they aren't easy to use.

Even sophisticated gadget fanatics find mobile devices to be a challenge to maintain and troubleshoot. Data connections are slow to connect, especially if the phone isn't already on. It can be slow to switch apps on a Treo. Resources like memory are often scarce. And there always seem to be problems with crashes or synching and more.

Even trying to use built in services like Sprint TV is not so pleasant. Whether it's trying to find stations or wait for buffering or it's downtime of the server or just trying to find the volume, or having to reconfirm the stream every couple of minutes, or losing signal, or even the lack of ability to fast forward/rewind. It's just a headache to the average person, even if they do take the time and effort to learn about it, which most don't want to do. They don't learn how to reset the VCR clock, so why do we think they can learn complicated interfaces for mobile devices, that don't always work anyway.

Even I don't want to try navigation systems using a bluetooth GPS device on my Treo. Another gadget to keep charged, more issues with setup, probably another accessory to position it in the car and a tiny little screen. Plus the interface will require thinking and time to set up a trip. I don't want to bother and my passenger probably won't want to wait. To top it all off, it's not cheap and it's not even trivial to understand what to buy, or what each product will do for you, or what it's compatible with.

Don't get me wrong... I personally am one of those gadget fanatics and mobile devices are progressing a lot. I know it's tough to create a device and software and deal with a carrier. But what I'm saying is that any regular user of a smartphone these days probably already knows why the features haven't caught on -- they are a pain in the neck for the average person to learn and use, and they come with too many problems along the way. Even figuring out what to buy or add to a device is confounding.

What do I need for push email, for example? That's one of the most basic uses of a smartphone. Yet the answer to that is far from obvious and the information out there is confusing. The poor consumers just avoid the whole situation.

Just my 2 cents...

Anonymous said...

"Mobile Opportunity"?

Or is it "Mobile Buzz-Kill"?

Michael Mace said...

Tom wrote:

>>I still belive that LBS will be part of the mobile experience

You're almost certainly right. I think what bothered me was the uncritical enthusiasm in the article. It's hard to make a really good mobile solution. Just tossing technology into a handset almost never pays off. General rule: There are no magic bullets.


Bob wrote:

>>we're seeing new features, but they aren't easy to use.

Exactly. And even when you can figure them out, they often don't do anything compelling.


Anonymous wrote

>>"Mobile Opportunity"? Or is it "Mobile Buzz-Kill"?

Oh, I can be much snarkier than that. Spend some time in the archives. ;-)

When I started this weblog, the first name I came up with was "Mobile Reality." I decided that didn't really capture the spirit I wanted, but sometimes it sort of fits...

Karri said...

First of all - thanks for the excellent blog!

Wise man has said:
"In any revolutionary technology, the pace of change is overestimated in the short run, and the magnitude of change is underestimated in the long run."

LBS is nothing new, as said. But easy to use, transparent and most of all useful services have been non-existent. Until today.
Anyone who jogs, hikes or walks and has been using Sports Tracker on N95 surely agrees that this is the way it should be. I also like the fact that all my photos are now geo-tagged. For example, when doing window shopping with my wife, I just take a picture of the nice shoes she has found and voila - she can see the pictures at home with the exact location where those shoes can be found. Convenient? Another example is to see my hiking routes in Google Earth. And this is just the beginning. All I'm saying is that it takes time from the technologies to mature and most of all it takes time from the end users to get used to new things.

And by the way - same applies to (almost) all other technology oriented services mentioned in the text - PIM, email, mobile video; When the ease of use of really useful services matches with the price tag of the service, the usage will take off. Same happened with SMS, IM etc.

OZMAN ZIA said...

its all part of tehnology advancement.yeterday when i downloaded an application from www.youpark.com which can lock your phone from unwanted calls and can reject SMS from unwanted calls.

carl said...

Perhaps mobile phone navigation is just the latest is a string of buzz-phrases in the mobile category. In 5 years time I'm sure that no mbile comms device will look as dated as the slated Iphone. ..what will it look like .. who knows, but when we do you'll be the first to pick up the buzz..