2008, the Year the Mobile Market Gets Touch-y

Of all the technology subsectors out there right now, the one with the most promise is the mobile platform. This is true for many reasons, notably that:

  • Your mobile phone is always on your person, making it a lucrative market for advertisers.
  • Most cell-phone consumers are still carrying “dumb” phones but are starting to look at smartphones. This is especially true as the BlackBerry Pearl and $100 Palm Centro are making smartphones more accessible, price-wise.
  • Here in the U.S., high-speed mobile broadband networks are becoming more pervasive.
  • Web sites are increasingly being offered in impressive mobile versions.

One major barrier to adoption with smartphones is the clunky interface these devices offer. Small screens combined with cramped keyboards, inadequate mobile software, and awkward pointing devices make email writing, web browsing and other common tasks difficult.At this year’s Mobile World Congress, the world’s largest mobile phone gathering, it was clear the major handset makers were well aware of the issues facing mobile phone users. The buzz from the conference centered on Nokia, Samsung and Sony trying to capture the user interface spirit of Apple’s iPhone. For example, most modern cell phones come with a camera phone, MMS features and the Java framework that allows for the use of a mobile platform. However, interaction with these advanced features is hindered by the complex user interfaces found on the phones.

Clearly a development was needed to engage customers.In June 2007, Apple showed the world how user-friendly and useful the touch interface could be. Now that the mobile handset market has had some time to react, two options are coming our way that are sure to heat up the market.Google’s Android platform will feature a touch capability. Imagine being able to zoom and move around with Google’s Street View or having access to your Google Talk contacts with the flick of a finger. For an interactive presentation, check out Android’s Andy Rubbin showcasing the device’s user experience:

Amazingly, the Android demo is running on a device that has a 300 Mhz processor — half of what the iPhone currently uses. With this type of efficient horsepower, it will be simply shocking to see the types of applications mobile developers can bring to the mobile userbase when Android hits the streets.

Mobile powerhouse Nokia isn’t sitting idle either, as the Symbian Touch UI will soon be making its way onto the Finnish handset maker’s devices. Unveiled at Mobile World Congress, the soon-to-be released mobile opeating system holds a high degree of promise. Like Android, Symbian’s touch UI will be open source. This should continue Symbian’s fantastic array of third-party application support.

Smartphone adoption in the U.S. has been hindered, especially when compared to Europe. Perhaps there is a cultural difference in that Americans seem to want to pull a phone out of the box and just start using the features. Europeans, on the other hand, seem more apt to read the manual and actually figure out complex features. Additionally, 3G GSM networks were available in a more timely fashion in European countries.

The Touch UI, with its speed, elegance and simplicity, might turn out to be just what the U.S. cell carriers have been hoping for, the catalyst that finally kickstarts the adoption of smartphones stateside — and cinches 2008 as the year the touch interface revolutionizes the mobile market.

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