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How many of your friends regularly use mobile gadgets at home? I am referring to PDAs, smartphones, notebook computers, and Tablet PCs. One of the things I notice is once you leave the insular world of IT and mobile technology you rarely see “regular” people using […]

How many of your friends regularly use mobile gadgets at home? I am referring to PDAs, smartphones, notebook computers, and Tablet PCs. One of the things I notice is once you leave the insular world of IT and mobile technology you rarely see “regular” people using these devices. Oh sure, you see notebook computers in a lot of settings now that the sales numbers are approaching those of desktops, but when is the last time you saw your neighbor or family member actually using them? It is easy to believe that the use of such mobile gadgets is taking place in the real world but if you think about it that’s not the case. Outside of cell phones what gadgets do you ever see people using at your kid’s ball game or in their homes?

Those of us directly involved in the mobile technology community realize the benefits that can be gained from using this technology, both at work and at home. We can check our email while waiting for that ball game to begin, or while standing in line at the bank. If we even go into the bank, that is, since we can pretty much do all our banking business online. We tend to hang out with other geeks who also use mobile technology so it’s easy to fall into the false belief that such gadget usage is becoming more mainstream. I will be the first to admit that there are more people using gadgets than ever before but not in numbers that push the technology into the mainstream.

What will it take for OEMs to produce devices that everybody wants to own? I think that is the wrong question. We should be asking “what features will make non-techies want to own a given device”? Talking to a lot of people it is clear to me that most generally like using technology to make their life easier but they also want it to help them enjoy the time they are not working, i. e. when they are at home. Maybe technology that improves the consumption of entertainment in the home would do it. Picture a handheld device that automatically connects to the home area network (HAN) when powered on and becomes a “super remote” for controlling the cable TV, TiVo, and even the Media Center PC if they have one. A device that can control the home security system, function as a telephone handset, get email, surf the web, and perhaps download music. The device could allow owners to text message their kids upstairs, the method of communication that has replaced the intercom of yesterday. I am not advocating such a device, I am just pointing out the functions that are likely to appeal to those regular people I referred to earlier.

Simple functions are often the ones that are most appreciated at home. Take today, for instance. I phoned up the Mom and Pop Chinese restaurant in my neighborhood to order some food for delivery. Before the restaurant even answered the phone their system identified me via Caller ID and pulled up my address along with a list of items I ordered the last time I phoned. As I gave the order taker a list of items I wanted delivered, she tapped the touch screen on their system for each item. As soon as I finished giving my order and she confirmed it with me their system generated a receipt to send with the food and a copy for the kitchen. In less than a minute they were working on my order in the kitchen so delivery could happen in about 20 minutes. Bear in mind I am not calling this mobile technology, I am just demonstrating a type of convenience that every single person who orders from this restaurant appreciates, even if they are not aware it is being deployed. This is the level of convenience that consumers want in their gadgets, too, if sales of mobile devices are to achieve mainstream type numbers.

The Ultra-mobile PCs (UMPCs) that have been in the tech news lately can begin to fill that need for all consumers. All that is needed is to make the interface customizable by the user so they can “create” the device they want. Make it automatically tap into the home network wirelessly, including all entertainment devices that reside there. Let it control the DVR, Slingbox, and audio center. Make it a part of the home and not just a gadget that makes it possible to take work home. Productivity boosting functions are appreciated but remember, most people never crack open a PC at home. They live, not work, at home.

  1. If we could figure out how to make mobil devices cook, do laundry, mop floors, clean toilets, drive kids here and there, excercise, and whatever else I do in a given day, I’d take three. Although I definitely have the toys (er, I mean tools) available, I’m not as mobil as I could be because I don’t have the time or patience to get there.

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  2. Well said. I second this post. I think it will be fun to watch as the gadgets keep getting simpler and users get more excited because they can actually see (and use/leverage) the benefits.

    Best regards,
    ~Toby Getsch

    http://www.tweblog.com

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  3. Mike P. Tomaszewski Thursday, February 16, 2006

    Before all, I guess it would be mandatory to improve the usability of existing mobile devices, by chipping away at the inane complexity of user interfaces. When it takes my trusty laptop (which I love to bits) 40 seconds to wake up from hibernation, when it takes a full 10 seconds to load firefox, when it takes 3 minutes to boot – that is inacceptable to me and more so for “mere mortal” users, who have no geeky attachment to IT.

    So, to a certain extent, I’d like to amend what you said, James: it’s not ‘function’ that will make technology more acceptable. It’s ease-of-use!
    Apple is a good example: its users have no idea what jpg files are, what they contain, etc. Instead MacOS users see image files, which they manipulate – rather as “images” than as “files”.

    Same goes for music: most folks don’t give a damn, whether it’s .mp3, .m4a or .wma they are listening to – and when you start confronting them with that kind of “function” (e.g. “choose your encoding file format”), that just completely overextends their ability to comprehend.

    In short: It will be a long time before you’ll see large parts of the population using smartphones – and certainly not as long as they stay at the level of complexity of Windows Mobile 5.0, Symbian, etc.

    PS: Not a MAC zealot; my statements just stem from years of frustration with “normal users” and their inability to understand tech…

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  4. I think that there are several available products that bridge the gap between technical and mainstream consumers-

    1- BlackBerries — I see a ton of housewives and sales people using 7100t’s around the mall, at parks, and at the airport. I see all flavors of BBs being used at the court house, at Congress (think old guys), etc.

    2- The Roombavac — Once people use one (and have pets) they loves this vacuum. It’s a great little device that you will give a name to because you can schedule “her” and she’ll do a touchup vacuum for you. <$240

    3- Electrolux (formerly Husqavarna) Automower and Friendly Robomower — Mows your lawn. The Automower costs more but is the better robot lawn mower and worth it.

    Sheri made a good point above. Technology that provides convience and ease of use of the best bridge technology for the masses.

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  5. We have found features to be the most important factor in selling robotic lawn mowers. We sell more Lawnbott Evolutions simply because of the number of features, the remote, the rain sensor, the self-programming, and otheer things that make the Lawnbott just so unique and amazing comapred to the Robomower, which we still sell a ton of, I have almost moved 2,000 pounds worth of Robomower this week alone. But people call in all the time with yards perfect for a Robomower and want to buy a Lawnbott because of the features, the gadgets that come on it.

    Check out our reviews of these mowers at http://www.bamabots.com

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