Musing on the Mobile Context

Its been a good night tonight despite not doing a great job – actually pretty horrible – when it came to helping to organize and fellowship with Digital Disciples tonite. Definitely need to put some more work into that aspect of connecting with folks here in Charlotte, and at the same time, I’ve been in that incubation mode feeling that another approach is needed.

That being said, I’ve spent little time today in that place in my head where I let mobile play some. Part of the reason for that is that I wanted to remained focused on a few things. But, also because I wanted to make sure that I was taking something of a break… you see, I think about mobile-(something) all the time.

For example, I listen to music in my car. And have been debating replacing the entire CD/radio unit with my rarely used Nokia N800 Internet Tablet. This device has a nice sized touchscreen, most (not all) of my mobile music, and has the ability to stream music from when connected to the web (Wi-Fi or via Bluetooth/my mobile). Frankly speaking, digital music is ok for my needs, and this makes sense.

At least it did until I realized that my mobile (a Nokia N97) was somehow now able to work over my stereo (it has a built-in FM Transmitter) while using the Mobbler client. You see, I prefer streaming when possible – even with 16(ish) gigabytes of music on my mobile. The ability to have your own radio w/o commercials is great. And today, it worked (it used to not work, hence the tablet-replace-stereo idea).

And yet I wanted just a touch more. You see, as I write this, my N97 is connected to my TV and I’m listening to When I walked out my house, I had to activate the FM Transmitter in order for it to stop playing through my Bluetooth headset.

Yes, it was connected to my TV, then when I disconnected it from there the music continued through my headset, and then after turning on my car radio and FM Transmitter application it played through my car stereo.

What I’m looking for is my mobile to recognize (via GPS, time of day, and possibly Bluetooth pairing) that I’m at home (TV or main door is a Bluetooth accesspoint), in the car (starter or alarm system is another Bluetooth access point), at my desk (Bluetooth on a laptop named ‘work’), or none of those places at all; and then give me not only the applications that fit best, but have them – and the content within them – queued and ready for me to just interact.

So, in my case, instead of clicking an application, waiting for the music client to catch the FM Transmitter to catch the car radio… I’m simply just turning on the car and the sound moves from my ear-piece to the car speakers. Use like this is the kind of thing that I think about all the time. And its bad..

…well, maybe not too bad. I’m of the opinion that devices and services should be more mobile-friendly than they are. I know that I do a ton more than most ever want to. Yet, I pay attention to these little and not so little interactions thru the mobile device and look for ways in which it seamlessly (seem like it does) connect to the context of my life.

As I said in a post today at talk.maemo:

When the OS fades into the background, and the person can just use it, then mobile is enabling.

Its not enough that mobile is here now. Its got to move past the point of even applications and services. In order for mobile to accurately define and display its value, its got to blend more into a natural context of use.

Using a ringtone is naturalized use. For some, downloading an app is natural. For others, browsing a website is. Sending and receiving a text message is natural. A mobile showing me the information that I want, changing its user interface and offering something contextually appealing without me asking – or signing up for yet another web service – is what’s not here yet. This kind of use has to become the area where mobile gets innovative.

At least, that’s how I feel when I’m using content management systems of all kinds, while my mobile buzzes once again that there’s an email – but doesn’t bother to let the person who sent an email know that I’m in a meeting.

So yea, I think on this stuff too much. At least I took some time off this evening. Even if it was my fault that no one was there to keep my mind off of mobile just a bit longer. Next month (2nd Monday) will be much better.