#N9 Playing As Background
My good & mobile-tuned friend Tomi Ahonen has been very, very long in the mobile industry. Just looking at everything he did before becoming a speaker, author, etc. is enough to just make you nod your head. And yet, as we sometimes know, the best friendships and admirations come not always because you agree, but because you can disagree constructively. In one of Tomi’s recent posts about location-based services (LBS), he listed nine (9) unique characteristics of mobile. Given that I use these unique abilities very often in my mobile presentations, seeing a new addition to the list means that its not time for blind adoption, but careful consideration and analysis. 

Here are those 9 unique abilities that Tomi listed in that post;

  1. Mobile is the first personal mass media
  2. Mobile is always carried
  3. Mobile is permanently connected
  4. Mobile has a built-in payment system
  5. Mobile measures the audience most accurately
  6. Mobile is available at the point of inspiration
  7. Mobile captures the social context of consumption
  8. Mobile enables Augmented Reality
  9. Mobile offers a digital interface to the real world

1st Personal Mass Media

Well, here’s where I’m on the fence in saying that it is. That’s not to say that it isn’t personal, nor that this is a very defining characteristic of mobile. I find it hard to establish that its the first personal mass media. Media that I’d put forward as personal before mobile: written language, currency, and even self-printed publications (this was possible after Gutenberg, albeit, expensive).

In terms of how we look at major media (speech, writing, print, radio, TV, internet, mobile), mobile can be considered the 1st widely available, accessible, and participant-directed media.

Let’s say ‘yes’ its personal, but not that its 1st.

Always Carried

Everyone who has had a mobile, or knows someone who has had a few mobiles, knows that its hard to see the person apart from the mobile. My (late) friend Stephen called the mobile an appendage. He’s right too. From studies that show how many times we touch our mobile, to how the mobile has replaced watches, cameras, personal music players, and even cash/coins and wallets. Its truly something that is on the person a good deal.

Print books can be carried often, but not always. There are several personal radio and TV devices. But it wasn’t until the telephone untethered itself from walls that we started seeing these more in the public sphere. The Walkman would have to qualify probably as the “always carried” device to open the modern age. But, the mobile phone seems to have spread faster and further than that has.

For this characteristic, let’s say ‘yes.’

Permanently Connected

Thinking about all that your mobile uses to connect with something/someone or that its connected to can be a big list:

  • Cellular for voice calls, SMS, MMS, and Internet
  • WiFi for voice/video calls, Internet, media streaming
  • FM radio for receiving mono/stereo audio
  • Bluetooth for accessory connectivity, person-to-person data transfer
  • GPS for location mapping, enhancing internet connectivity
  • Loudspeaker for sharing sounds
  • Composite A/V, HDMI,  and/or projector for sharing visual media

I’m probably missing a few, but that’s a lot to connect with, and lots of ways to do so. It wasn’t until the N95 that having all of this in a mobile (and the N95 came out in 2006 and had everything listed here except the HDMI and projector pieces) became real to most people. Of course, being connected like this also meant we were connected to a power supply a little more often than we wanted to be.

Is it totally unique though? I don’t know. We can see that automobiles have adopted many of the connectivity methods listed above (you know that many cars come with cellular data subscriptions, not just satellite radio, but now able to be hotspots in and of themselves). And there were portable TVs that had radio that I remember from m youth. CB Radios are still popular to some folks.

I’d call the availability to being permanently connected as something unique to a larger social group than previously. But, for being connected all the time, well, that’s something that has to be called possible, not always defining.

Transaction Point/Enabler

Mobile can be a payment terminal. It can facilitate financial transactions. It can also be one of the points of emphasis in a transaction. We can also point to transactions that are not financial, such as passing information from one person/group to another and see that mobile can play a part in this as well. Is it totally unique in that aspect? Let’s consider the history of other media:

  • Writing on a shaven stone or dried leaf = currency
  • During various wars in the past 100 years, its been seen that newspapers and other publications contained coded messages; I’d not be surprised if radio programs were used in a similar manner

Ok, not totally unique. And possibly similar to carrying a personal radio that encrypts/decrypts a signal. Its likely not a broadcast transaction, which makes it different than conventional radio (because mobiles are using radio waves to communicate, if I’m going to be very general about things).

Accurate Audience Measurement

Here’s one of those features about a mobile that have a relevance towards marketers more than users/consumers. People only care if the intended person receives/transmits to them a message. They (usually) could care less if other folks need to be counted. On the side of marketing, making sure that you aren’t wasting energy by transmitting data that’s not being acted upon is pretty much the purpose of marketing and its analytics.

If sitting with a group of sociologists, I could make the argument that this isn’t so much a mobile characteristic as much as its a marketing one that mobile happens to identify with fairly well. Thing is, in order to realize how accurate mobile is, you either need to be the NSA (zing), or have access to lots of data that isn’t ordinarily available.

Once you have that data, you can see that mobile is indeed quite the analytics playground. From the information in the header of an SMS or IP packet, to what’s actually sent from cell to cell when calls are made. There’s a lot that can be seen about all of those participating in mobile. I can’t remember if it was NK or Cuba that mentioned that they no longer need to spend as much in spy equipment because the people using a mobile device are giving them lots more information than they could ever get by covert operations.

I’d have to say this probably counts too highly as a unique feature of mobile. It is not a one-way communications technology by any means.

Inspiration Stimulant

Mobile is unique as it is available at the point of creative inspiration. Meaning that, ignoring contracts/legal rules/etc, when you feel like creating something, your mobile is there and ready to be your muse. This has traditionally meant that when you want to take a photo, that you take out your mobile and capture your world. Given the abilities of mobiles now to edit stills and video, be canvases for DJs and sketch artists alike, and even play the role of notebooks for students in classrooms, mobile is indeed as unique as paper in this respect.

Did I just compare mobile to paper? Yup. Paper crafts were the center of many of our childhoods. And when you got crafty towards not just making art, but making art that communicated something (the question note that ended with the ‘you are a boogie’ or ‘like me: yes or no’ were popular) indeed puts mobile in a class of extending an activity that we are familiar with. The primary difference with mobile as an inspiration stimulant than paper is space. What happens on the paper, needs to be (usually) manually done again. With the mobile you can create something, and have a near-infinite amount of ways to share and remix those items.

So, its unique in overall capability here, but not in ability.

Captures Social Consumption

I’m going to say this isn’t unique, but an outgrowth of what you get because mobile use can reveal audience metrics.

Enables Augmented Reality

This is one of my favorite features of being connected because you aren’t saying that mobile is vital, but it plays like a magic wand and opens up a window into experiences where aspects of the Internet/WWW are embed into the real/organic world. Thing is, aside from niche uses, and the occasional QR code, this isn’t something happening very often. Arrgh…

Prior to mobile, to augment your reality, you’d have scavenger hunts where you had to dress the part of a story and then go to various points to act it out. You had 3D glasses in the movies that aimed to add a spatial component to an audio/video movie or cereal box experience. In these cases though, you were only seeing what someone else prepared for you.

When you say enable augmented reality, part of that has to include the instigating inspiration characteristic spoken above. What about blending your organic and digital worlds makes sense and becomes something else entirely once you have done it? I’ve been stepping in this route in terms of some of most recent mobile presentations that I’ve done – but I don’t think I’m there yet because I’m not creating the augmented reality experience in an augmented space. I’m making it in another medium and bringing folks into that world (usually via their mobile). When the authoring tools make it possible to enable augmented reality from something that’s not digital or organic, then I think we’ve got something new happening. Until then, mobile is only a key to opening the door to a mobile experience.

Unique? Possibly, leaning to yes.

Digital Interface to Real World

This isn’t a unique characteristic of mobile, but of any technology (re: tool +  behavior). As I explained in the prior characteristic, mobile has the ability to instigate experiences that blend real and digital worlds. But, its not done so often that its normal.

Its close. M-Pesa (trading for/paying for items from your phone), virtual shopping assistants, mobile-only social networks that deliver items to your home, etc. are all methods to getting there. But, until the experience is 100% native to mobile, and doesn’t look like anything else that’s come before, that digital interface isn’t quite real yet.

So Where Does That Leave Those 9 Characteristics

I’ll label this as such: the number, yes/no of being a characteristic, yes/no of being uniquely mobile.

  1. Yes, No
  2. Yes, Yes
  3. Yes, No
  4. Yes, No
  5. Yes, No
  6. Yes, Possibly
  7. No, No
  8. Yes, Possibly
  9. No, No

So that makes 7 identified with 1 being uniquely mobile, and two others with the potential of being unique to mobile.

Now, I’m not a trained sociologist, anthropologist, marketer, or developer (college I did public relations, tech is a hobby still). So, there are likely lots of holes in what I’m writing here. Feel free to link to this on your blog with a refutation of any of the points. I like learning, otherwise I’d not spent 1800+ words writing all of this out 😉


One thought on “Evaluating @tomiahonen’s 9 Unique Mobile Characteristics

  1. Pingback: Impressions of the Nokia Lumia 925, & T-Mobile Jump | blog.arjw

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