What Does Mobile Longevity Look Like?

After writing this post about how I’ve been getting along with my N97, and reading some more thoughts from folks at Brighthand who’ve had their devices for years and don’t see themselves getting smartphones unless the same kind of investment can happen, I’m starting to think on the lines of mobile longevity. Or, if you will, what if your mobile device could last for years, instead of being obsolete in 18 months (or longer, depending on who’s talking)?

Much like that initial Jetsons post, I am starting to think about the lack of resources that we will have towards making more mobiles (without paying some kind of tax towards their eventual environmental impact). I think about the hardware, and what really constitutes something that will actually live for a few generations of software. And in the same wise about the software, and what will I be willing to learn in order for the device to mature with my computing needs.

And so what do we do? I mean, really, what are our options?

We could start to see something come of patents like this recently talked about one, where our mobiles start to be so power-conscious that they can actually charge with our movements (ironically enough, will the by product of that patent mean that we actually get out and walk/exercise more to get work done).

Or, do we get start to pay some more attention to the software that drives our devices, and start to pick and choose platforms not just because they connect us to the content and people we want, but also enable us to learn in ways that we had not considered before? If you think about it, do kids really need to learn Windows? Or, do they know it already because its in the fabric of their worlds, and what they really need is software that challenges them like Sugar?

What about the economic impact? I mean, we’ve seen that people are starting to pay down their debts on credit cards. Soon enough, people will notice that post-pay costs more than pre-pay and will want to change things there as well.

So were do we start thinking about building materials, political ramifications, religion, etc. At some point, mobile cannot be just about upgrading to the latest anything anymore, its got to be about something that lasts – and the implications of life if it doesn’t.

Thinking about mobile and these implications, we’ve got to have some kind of approach and answers. And really, its not going to be about throwing the same answer at it: smaller, faster, cheaper (eh, no). I mean, somehow, we are going to have to become more strategic in our thinking and acting with mobile if we’d like to see this tech last another 25 years. Personally, I’d like my N97 to last a good long time. I’d like the next version of the operating system to be quite usable on it (I’d pay for that). I’d like to see software and services like the mobile web server come (back) up so that I could further extend my personal cloud and the ability to connect to the people, entertainment, and work that matters. And overall, I’d like to finally have a piece of tech that not just markets that I care about the implications of this tech, but demonstrates that I care and am working towards solving issues.

When mobile can get to that point, then we’ve got something really great in our hands.

Posted this on Twitter, Brighthand, and Talk.Maemo as well.

N97: The Live-With Review

I was asked earlier today if I would note some of the reflections that I have with the N97 with it being a number of months since reviewing and purchasing it. During this time, I’ve been one part excited, another part challenged, and very much content with my purchase.

The Excited Moments

Some of the more excited moments with the N97 has been just its sheer versatility. I use this device hard. There is rarely a workday that goes by where I don’t need a charge by 5pm.

These days, normal use has me connected to 3 email accounts with Nokia Messaging (that might drop to two), listening to music anywhere from 1hr to 4hrs (depending on whether I pop in earphones at work or while bike riding, or if I use the FM transmitter for the client commute), and several hours of web browsing.

I use Skype during business hours as it has been great in saving me much money – I’ve even reduced my post-paid contract to the lowest possible level because of it.

Beyond that, I connect my Apple Wireless BT keyboard to it to write blog posts, respond to emails, or write on several threads. I also keep my eye on the Maemo/Meego, Ideas.Symbian, and Google Reader websites, so I tend to have the device on very, very often.

Compared to every mobile device I’ve had in the past, its sheer ability has been wonderful to behold and discover. And yes, I’m not always as mobile as I’d like to be, yet, I’m finding that I am not just productive with the N97, but learning how mobile and computing lives in several types of contexts.

The Challenging Moments

Hence the challenge moments. The N97 is less the multimedia computer than the N95. Its much clearer to the point of Symbian though than any mobile. Its a very solid communications terminal, and at the same time, its not quite a PC yet.

Some of this has to do with the fact that it shipped with some iffy firmware. Once v20 came out, the N97 that showed up in the ads started to shine through.

Yes, memory issues get me from time to time. I notice still that the heavier apps will eventually shut down, or even causes the device to do a half-restart. And its challenging there. Sometimes more than others.

And yet, there’s been this peace about these challenging moments. On one part I’m living with the current plateau of the Symbian platform, and on another part, I know that the next Symbian platforms are hacked onto this. Its a lot like having the Treo 650 – its was a half generation ahead of where it should have been, and sometimes the software responded as such.

The Content Moments

Which is where I can say that I’m getting very content with things. When I moved to the Symbian platform, this was the device that I wanted. I didn’t want the half-step of having a Symbian and Maemo device (the N75 and N800). I wanted one platform that spoke to my needs and did so well. I feel that the N97 is just about there.

Yes, I’ve had the N900 and it does show where Nokia is going. However, it doesn’t match in the communication’s polish that Symbian has. Its not a feature issue, its an experience issue.

I’ve grown to be quite content with other aspects of the N97 such as the browser (still chokes on a few sites, but overall, not bad), and Nokia Messaging (RAM hog). I’ve liked the applications and games that have come from the Ovi Store. There’s room to improve there though – and some of the recent games and improvements to Ovi Maps speak to that happening.

In seeing a lot of mobiles come my direction, I’ve got a weird perspective on the N97 – its actually a pretty solid mobile. A very solid one if you aren’t tied into iTunes or Google in fact. Its one of those kinds of devices that enables you to kind of live part of your mobile life on your terms, and then with those things you cannot, there are several solutions (some more polished than others).

Of items that I’d like to see in future updates:

  • better Skype integration
  • better RAM handling with Nokia Messaging
  • threaded SMS
  • updated browser engine (and updates to Flash if they are going to keep that marketing point)
  • some tuning to the battery and camera
  • and some more versatility with the homescreen widgets (they are passive displays only)
  • (one more) integrate all the major IM services into Ovi Contacts

I know for a fact that there’s a lot coming in terms of these minor issues with Symbian^3. In fact, I’d not be remiss to tell anyone who is looking at the N97 to hold-off for the Symbian^3 devices (possibly June at earliest, mostly likely Fall). There’s a lot of polish that’s been done, and Symbian kind of just works well.

I would not trade my N97 for any device that is available right now. I’m really that content with it. In terms of a device that can be better, it would need to be something along the lines of the Microsoft Courier or Nokia Morph concept devices. Its not the “perfect in every way” package, but like Mario in Mario Kart/Smash Bros, tends to do good enough in so many areas that its just hard to look away from it.

This was also posted at Brighthand.

More than Specs

One of the arguments that I try not to get into with people happens to be about specifications and features. Yes, there’s something to be said for checking more boxes in the “my device can do this more than yours” bucket. But, really, when it gets down to it, every device choice that we make really is about the experience that we are trying to derive from life by having it. And from there, we are either happy or not. And usually, when we aren’t happy, we try to validate things by talking about features (which are good points, just not very valid to the minds of those looking at their devices in glee).

For example, the Nokia N97 gets a lot of flack for being the flagship mobile from Nokia. If you meet someone who’s happy with what it does, you can see where Nokia was going with it. That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have issues, or that it has the best specs, but that the compromise of features and the availability of its use has made for an experience that’s just not rivaled with other devices – especially those with similar features.

In the same way, you can think about the new Honda CR-Z. The CR-Z is a hybrid sports car that was designed to be great to drive, not necessarly the fastest or quickest. And when you look at the numbers (its as slow as a Prius and gets way worse gas/electric mileage), you’d think that it has a problem. But, it doesn’t. At least not according to the persons who eventually signed off on it. It just felt like a great ride. And that experience tends to count for a ton.

Thinking about life and tech in this manner is new(ish) to me. That’s not to say that I’ve not always had to be happy with what I’ve purchased or was given, but I always had to find the silver liniing. Thing is, if you can get your head wrapped around the designer’s intentions, then you can find some fulfillment – and even some enhancement to how you live life – with whatever device that it is you have.

It takes a lot, one could even argue that it takes a certain kind of maturity. But, I tend to believe that we are not jsut entering a point in time of great innovation, but a point where we have to do a better job of appreciating what it is we have and the opportunities that they afford. Shiny devices only shine for a while, after that, they are still devices with a purpose.