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Mobility – What’s Different?

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Is mobility a new revolution, or is it just an extension of the previous PC and Internet revolutions? Is anything really different? I think a glance at the impact of the Kindle, the Dash Express, DriveCam and CardioNet quickly shows how the mobility difference is revolutionizing many unrelated industries. But before we rush to these ground-breaking devices, let’s stop and consider how technology revolutions truly drive change.

Think back to the PC. What was different was local processing and storage, which freed people to do things that previously had been impossible. The PC freed innovators to develop applications that treated processing and storage as a commodity controlled by end-user decisions, and freed end users to be bold, experiment, and iterate in ways that couldn’t be justified in a shared-resource environment. We know the killer apps that emerged from this freedom, including the spreadsheet, the word processor, and desktop publishing, and how these applications fundamentally reshaped entire industries and transformed how virtually every company operates.

Think back to the Internet. What was different was standardized cross-domain networking. Innovators leveraged this interconnectivity to develop killer applications including email and the web. End users were freed to explore and connect, and we know that the Internet has redefined the rules of competition across industries and has fundamentally changed how each of us does our work.

So, what is different about mobility?

Mobility is highly personal technology that is always with you. It knows about you –- who you are, where you are, and can even know what you’re doing and what you’ve done in the past. Mobility obviously frees you to go where you want without losing connectivity to your world, but it can also dramatically make your connections more relevant and effective. Just as the first popular uses of the PC were to act as a dumb terminal into time-share systems, and the first popular uses of the web were to extend “desktop publishing” to a networked environment, the first popular uses of mobility are simply extending email and the web to mobile devices. But other early successes, including navigation and picture mail begin to hint at the potential for true revolution.

I believe that a new class of devices is beginning to capture the true power of mobility and is poised to disrupt industries. Amazon’s Kindle is more than just an e-book reader that happens to have a network connection. The Kindle has your identity built in, making it easy to buy and instantly acquire new titles. But marry that built-in identity with Amazon’s lauded recommendation engine, and you have a powerful personalized resource with you wherever you go. From everything I hear, this is resulting in dramatically changed behavior for Kindle readers and will likely disrupt the publishing and book-selling industries forever.

The Dash Express is another category-breaking device with mobile broadband built in. But Dash has gone a step extra in opening its API to innovators seeking to mash-up the unique capabilities of mobility with a variety of web apps. Considering just the few third-party apps Dash highlights — apps for finding houses for sale, integrating calendar data, avoiding speed traps and factoring weather conditions into your trip planning — gives a sense for how mobility may disrupt more industries than just navigation.

Consider how DriveCam is changing the insurance industry and how CardioNet is literally saving lives, and the revolutionary impact of mobility becomes increasingly clear. The important question for each of us is what impact this mobility revolution will have on your industry and on your company. Will you be a disruptor or a disruptee? Do you have a Kindle opportunity in you?

Russ McGuire is Vice President of Strategy for Sprint Nextel, and the author of The Power of Mobility (Wiley, 2007). Russ blogs regularly at McGuire’s Law.

Photo courtesy John Pastor via Flickr

7 Responses to “Mobility – What’s Different?”

  1. I believe that the real revolution is not a technology one.

    Once the notions of ubiquitous computing are taken for granted, the real added value of mobility will become as part of a ubiquitous user experience.

    Revolution will be freeing the user from walled gardens to really become a user’s net.

    I believe that the next evolutionary phase of the net is a paradigm shift from a site centered to a user centered – or as we call it at – an Icentered revolution.

    Therefore the real revolution play is the ubiquity in mobility – it’s an infrastructure play for the user that exceeds application providers. It’s at the service of the user to allow to experience a web of life – a web centered around each individual, reflecting the specific needs, affinities, relevance… of each, adapted to unique usage patterns, and is personal and safe. It translates into a personally contextualized web experience comprised from personal relevance, proactive privacy and trust management, harmonious surfing and adaptive interfaces.

  2. Russ,

    I think your write up is well done, but I think that you’ve overlooked “what’s the same?” I’m specifically referring to user behavior measured by productivity. In your write up, you focus on devices which process information in a manner that improves the user’s productivity. Whether the user is stationary (pc), reading (kindle), or in motion (dash), the behavior regarding information consumption is the same, but the tools used are evolving. Having said this, there is nothing different about mobility when it comes to information consumption. The question is what new devices and applications will enhance the productivity of the mobile user.

    Personalization, availability, location, utility, and broadband access are design constraints and resources for mobility. The tools which effectively utilize all of these parameters to increase productivity will be groundbreaking as they will have clear user and economic value. Those that do not will have questionable user value, and likely no economic value.

    We’re early in the mobility game, but most “mobile” companies offering new devices and applications focus on one or two of these constraints resulting in questionable economic value (no business model). When we see many new devices and services which answer the question “what’s the same?” while increasing overall productivity such as the kindle, then it will be obvious about what’s different about mobility.