Me and my mobile    

If you want to reach consumers in the mobile world, here are some terms that may come in handy: WAP, SMS, GSM, GPRS, UMTS, WML, and VXML. On the other hand, how about these: stylish, curvy, sleek, discreet, funky, customised. Because for all the confusing, conflicting and short-lived buzzwords, more than any other type of technology mobile phones and their cousins ("wireless information devices" or, if you prefer, WIDs) are about people. Think about it - do you love your TV? You might boast of its Nicam stereo digital wide-screenedness, but at the end of the day it's just a box in the corner of the room that lets you to watch great programs (unless it's one of those funky 70s spaceman helmet jobs, in which case you're allowed to love it). And your PC? Mac users have a monopoly on computer-love, for the rest of us it's just a box on the desk which you shout at when you want to get your work done quicker.

But not mobiles. Mobiles are different. Despite the sparseness of information available over wireless channels, people treat their mobile devices as extensions of themselves. Are you a small & silver aesthete, a flip-cover futurist, or a face-changing chameleon? Does your phone ring with a sober beep, a full rendition of Oops! I did it again, or the theme from Batman? People are increasingly dependent upon their mobiles, and so the mobile follows them wherever they go, from work to home to club to the street. People who five years ago wouldn't get the cellular brick out of their briefcase in an open space, for fear of being branded a yuppie, now have no qualms about talking to themselves in public via a concealed hands-free set.

And all of this is happening on some of the clunkiest gizmos around: typing text messages on a numeric keypad is a nightmare, but still 2 billion of them are sent per month in Europe, a figure which has doubled in the last year and is predicted to increase by 100% every 6 months. And in Japan, things have moved on further: instead of text messages, the latest hobby is sending digital photographs to friends from your mobile. So don't worry about the medium, or the technology, or the never-ending stream of acronyms; they will all take care of themselves. I hate to disappoint all you advertisers and brand guardians who are busy diverting every bit of spare budget towards interactive goggle-boxes, but the real interaction is going to happen at work, at home, on the street and in the club, between people and their mobile life-extension devices.

© Mark Westall & Dan Sumption, August 2000

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