December 20, 2010

Essential smartphone features, context awareness

Logo from ConTeXtImage via WikipediaThanks to a colleague of mine I got my hands on this article that talks about essential functionality of smartphones in 2011. Friday I had a great and insightful conversation with Matt Hately, and Rob Woodbridge. It got me thinking, as some of you know this can get very dangerous, this time the more we talked and I read, the more it just clicked!

Essentially, the article talks about
  • Media integration/Streaming music services
  • Voice Commands
  • Upgradability
  • Near Field Communications
During my conversation with Matt and Rob, we got onto something  I also have been mulling  for some time. The mobile is so much more than its ability to make phone calls, its portable nature and connectivity has literally changed the way we do things and its only the beginning.

Look at the iphone it's not even a good reliable phone as per Arrington! The smartphone has a new dialtone. It's no longer the ability to make calls that makes a mobile useful, or as useful. The new dialtone of smartphone is its ability to grasp the context of use like no other devices we have had before.

I look at it like, the device out of the box, can make sense of the following:
  • spatial position, up, down, left, right
  • your location - GPS
  • has access to your social graph
    • where are my friends
    • what do they like
    • when is their birthday
  • information about you (agenda for example, what you’re doing)
In the context of retail - I like to think of the combination of smartphone+social+ctx as the holy trinity.
Now couple this with some additional enablers from the link above, and the future is here! 
  • Take NFC for example, the scenario I talk about where one waves his smartphone at a DVD in a bestbuy, through some NFC magic, the trailer of the movie could start playing on your device. 
  • VoiceCommands - here is another perfect ctx scenario, this app can be smarter because your device can guess with a reasonable accuracy what your doing. Making it simpler to  remember the commands. A lawyer meeting with a client, all commands by default should apply to this client, from dictation to billing. Then let's say you like the DVD, and there is a sales on the go, that buy three get one free, through your social graph, you know who is around you can entice them, and/or you know who had this DVD on their wishlist, and you can give them as a gift!
  • Media integration – this is one place where we know it’s happening. If you happen to live in the USA then you have streaming, if you live in Canada, not yet! It’s also a place where Google fumbled the ball with Android, there is little yet for us to reliably synchronise media, audio, pictures etc. It’s also more than music and pictures, it’s books. Remember the context is everything, I’m in a discussion with someone and I quote a book, and that person says can you lend it to me, sure, I take my mobile and lend my ebook. The ebook phenomenon through its fear of being screwed, has forgotten what makes a book a great sharable experience! 
  • Upgradability - how many of us have been stuck with an android device with slow upgrade path, this is so important in my mind. HTC and Samsung have to start playing smart, waiting 1yr to get to 2.2, when 2.3 is coming out is plain silly. The life expectancy of a device in the hands of a consummer is about 2yrs, no matter what in the smartphone space. There is a tremendous pressure on manufacturers to create loyalty, the experience they create will make that loyalty stronger or weaker. They need to go back to their drawing board and figure what experience through their devices they want to create. Software is a big part of that experience, and they need to understand better what creates loyalty. Researching your users to understand context of use is a big part of it.
As William Gibson said in Neuromancer - 'the future exists, it's just unequally distributed!' The experience of what we do with smartphone exists, it just hasn’t reached you yet!


Rob Woodbridge said...

While the lightbulb is bright Fred, don't you think it's time we stop thinking of smartphones as phones? I think the shift happened a long time ago but we are just realizing that the things that are attached to our hips are no longer phones and as long as we think of them as phones (or smartphones) it will always have limitations...

Aaron Olson said...

I like Paul Graham's take. He calls them tablets:

Frederic Boulanger said...

Rob, phone is one of many things the little thing does indeed. sounds good!