Blog Post

Mobile Phone a Social Computer

Stay on Top of Enterprise Technology Trends

Get updates impacting your industry from our GigaOm Research Community
Join the Community!

trip hawkinsDavid Beisel is quite impressed by Trip Hawkins’ portrayal of the mobile phone as a social computer. Hawkins’ who is the founder of Digital Chocolate, a mobile gaming company is of the Silicon Valley set that came of age in the PC era. He was part of a panel, Smartphone in 2010 at Always On. It is no surprise he and most of the others (especially the elder statesmen of Silicon Valley) view mobile phones as a computer, albeit tiny one packed in a little tiny case. They are the ones who are super impressed with Treo.

Looking at mobile phones through PC eyes is simply myopic. Mobile phones have a different behavioral relationship with their users. People love their phones, they hate their computers. Mobile phones are fun, computers are work. But mostly – phones are not computers – they are terminals on the edge of the network, they lack the complexity of a PC, and are managed. They are devices that help people communicate, not compute. They let you consume bits some of the time, not all the time. Phone is being forced to become a computer to fit an old vision – and that’s simply loco!

12 Responses to “Mobile Phone a Social Computer”

  1. Jesse Kopelman

    Om, I’m with Jeff on this one — how can you love your phone? I think you might be spoiled by all the high end goodies you play with. Half the phones I see make me want to scream at how bad the user interface is. Think Windows 2.0 bad, compared with the nice XP or OS X PCs we use.

  2. Victor Blake

    I understand that phones are computers. But one distinction is that (prior to them having WiFi and potentially bluetooth) phones cannot network with peers. They network through (and only through) cellular networks. The centralized control and operations of those networks has prevented the growth of applications as cellular operators attempt to lock down their platforms and own 100% of the revenue of everything done on them. How open is a platform that requires you to pay a service provider for a ring tone (we will presume one that is not copyrighted).

  3. Thomas Hirsch

    Yesterday, the LA Times had a very relevant article. Here are the first few lines:

    Gadgets Include User Attachment
    Designer’s of today’s electronic devices try to push consumers’ buttons. The objective is set the products apart and create emotional bonds.

    By Alex Pham, Times Staff Writer

    Scott Rose is gaga for his iPod.

    “Imagine being in a romance so perfect, you wonder how you ever managed to survive before this person came into your life,” said Rose, a 33-year-old Los Angeles computer consultant. “That’s how I feel about my iPod.”

    Rose’s passion for his digital music player stems less from the mysterious chemistry of human devotion than from the calculating precision of Apple Computer Inc. engineers, who designed the iPod to elicit the same sort of warm, gooey feelings most people associate with love.

    The tiny player’s curves, for instance, are baby smooth.

    “It really begs to be caressed,” said Apple’s Greg Joswiak.

    Its reflective stainless steel back demands constant polishing.


  4. “Phones are not computers” : that’s wrong as in the last two years “Mobiles” have become General Purpose Computers which General Purpose processors, RAM, Wifi, 3D Co-pro, Flash/HDD…They are next gen computers succeeding to PC as PC succeeded to MiniComp…

    “People love their phone” : right, as the PC was eventually a shared device, “Mobiles” are the first real individualist device.

    “They are Terminals” : that is what SysAdmin & Carriers want them to be, but it will fail as Mainframe Era have been swapped by the dissemination of digital power.

    “Communicate not compute” : that’s the same thing ! What’s Skype ? Computing or communication ? No difference between them.

    “Fit an old vision” : the vision you hold as “terminal attached to big center machines” is actually much older than PC, it’s the early days of computing, 60’s !!

  5. Dimitar,

    I kindly disagree. These devices of ours are NOT always on 24/7 (though some people may opt to make their live miserable that way). PCs were never collaboration tools. PC = Personal Computer. I have yet to see anyone refer to a machine (whether a computer or a phone) as an IPC (Inter Personal Computer).

    Also, I agree with Om, and I think much (but not all) of old school Silicon Valley is having a hard time adapting to the mobile telephony context. Think culture clash (mobile phones, these social devices, sprung up out of Scandinavia and Chicago (Mot)). The cultures are different. I’d venture to guess (Om would you agree with me?) that Ed Zander is probably one of the very few who has truly crossed cultures . He came from Sun Microsystems in Silicon Valley and went to the Windy City where the Cubs yearn for a World Series and Mayor Daly chops up airport runways at 3 a.m. without the city’s permission! If Hawkins were in Zander’s shoes, then perhaps we could listen a little bit more closely to Hawkins. Has anyone noticed that Jobs is doing exactly the right thing? He’s keeping Apple out of the telecom business directly and cutting a deal with Zander for the iTunes phone. Let us not forget that Jobs and Zander may have had differences in the past (NeXT going for the workstation market dominated by Sun) but they were also adjacent to each other. I’m somewhat surprised that no one in the press has made the connection between Jobs and Zander (NeXTSTEP ran on SPARC hardware by the way for the children who don’t have the benefit of historical knowledge). Then again, a lot of people had written off Jobs / NeXT in the 1990s (just ask G. Pascal Zachary who often whaled on Jobs when Zachary was working then for the Wall St. Journal). Om, I think you could do a really cool history piece on NeXT and the “dark days” when everybody had written off Steve. Did you know that one of the reasons why Apple was able to buy NeXT so swiftly (and make the announce over the Christmas holiday in late 1996) was because NeXT had all of its ducks in a row (e.g., SEC filings) as they were preparing to go public? Yep! That made Apple’s due diligence process very frictionless. I guess I got a bit sidetracked but when I read Om’s piece about Hawkins, one thing led to another (its a very small world at the end of the day).

  6. while that might be true, you clearly have to look at the mobile phones with a whole different view. if you look at some of the most popular activities on the phone, they have nothin in common with the PC. its a communication device, which is why is a social networking device. photos, SMS and calls are part of it. adding PDA functions doesn’t make it a smart phone. smart phone as a concept just is not smart. smart phones would do two things – smartly figure out how i want to do things, and secondly do it with minimum invasion of my behavior. we are long ways off.

  7. Om,

    The issue is not how people view PDA phones. The issue is how they are or have been marketed.

    They have been marketed as extensions to what you already have on your PC, not as ways to do things without a PC.

    The failure of all marketing of technology products is that they are marketed as technology, not consumer products.