With the first decade of the millennium now behind us (though actually it should be a year from now but never mind), I thought it would be worth looking back at the year and offering a retrospective of the mobile industry. There were a few notable events, but in many ways it was business as usual.
A decade ago mobile was just finally coming into its own. By 1999 it seemed everyone had a mobile phone, but these devices were hardly “smart.” Voice was the primary function of mobile handsets.
Today of course, we have smartphones, we have feature phones, and we even have disposable phones. All of these are at pretty much as powerful as the top of the line handsets from a decade ago. But this decade saw several significant trends.
Phones became mini-computers, and the smartphone meant you could check e-mail, surf the Web, take pictures and do a lot more. But even the latest feature phones can now pretty much do all of this as well. But does that mean that phones will continue to advance in what they can do? Well, consider that computers do basically the same thing as they did a decade ago – the difference is that the software has improved. Windows 7 isn’t really that much of a technological leap forward from Windows ME, and Apples latest OS has made improvements, but it is hardly reinventing the wheel. The bigger difference is that broadband has gone wide, and thus the Internet is what evolved faster than the hardware.
So in this regard, phones might do stuff “better.” We can expect faster networks on our mobile handsets, and delivery of TV may become mainstream, but we shouldn’t expect a major breakthrough that will transform the world. That said, there will be plenty of mobile specific applications, such as more reliance on GPS and of course communication tools such as Twitter. These are really more mobile friendly after all. Perhaps a new version of the Web will be created that is truly the “mobile Web,” instead of being the traditional Web made for handsets.
Likewise, in a decade the once reliable GPS device might be reduced to an app. Landlines might account for less than half of all U.S. homes. Why have a landline when you can get all your calls in your pocket? But will landlines completely disappear? Probably not. Businesses will need this of course.
But instead we should consider that the mobile phone combined several devices. In addition to the just mentioned GPS, the mobile phone now has combined the functionality of a PDA and a portable music player. The issue now – at least those looking to be the innovators – is that there is nothing left in our pockets. So instead we must focus on the functions.
In this regard let us compare this to computers and TV. Computers really came together in the 1990s. At the start of the decade the monitors were large, the memory small and networked meant maybe you shared a printer or had a low speed modem. Computers became faster, easier to use and by 1999 everyone seemed to have one. Now we look at computers and the monitors are thin, sleek and wide. What has improved this past decade is that the Internet has evolved as well, and broadband is everywhere.