Thursday, 14 February 2008

Me, Now = Mobile 2.0

The mobile web is about personalisation and personality. It’s about what the user wants to do now.

It’s why we should encourage use, if it’s what the user wants to do. If 2007 and 2008 is the year of blind mobile transcoding the internet to the masses, with tools available from the likes of Novarra then so be it. Transcoders may be using dubious practices to deliver their solution and it clearly falls short of the opportunity that is available to us, but it’s up to us to provide the compelling experience that attracts the user. There’s still hurdles we need to cross before we get a rich contextual and true Mobile 2.0 experience; hurdles that we are rapidly crossing. We need to improve connectivity – fixed-rate data charges along with reliability and bandwidth. We need to provide competitive alternative pipes – to steer away from walled gardens, preferential network traffic, carrier ad insertion and pipes that force transcoding on us. We need to tackle trust, security and privacy head on. How do we deal with tracking location, targeting adverts or interacting with personal contacts on the phone without violating the protection that the user expects? We need to be transparent about what it’s going to cost to the user, to be clear as to what they are going to get and let them do what they want to do.

W3C stress that the One Web goal must be made in the mobile context and make “as far as is reasonable, the same information and services available to users”. Let’s be careful about the interpretation of term reasonable and not confuse it with that of technical capability. It probably isn’t reasonable to expect a user to enter their credit card details on the typical phone of this age, even though you could technically make such a payment. A user might be more susceptible to a free bottle of wine with a meal in a local restaurant if they’re hungry and passing by than if they’re sitting comfortably on their sofa at home. On the move an electrical engineer might only want to locate a specific component’s availability in a nearby warehouse, but will be more than happy to browse through latest offerings when back in the office.

It’s the difference between browsing on the PC and finding on the mobile. The typical user hasn’t got the inclination nor the luxury of the tools to browse around what’s available. The mobile user wants to find something, whether that be the time of the next train, the nearest club or a game to idle away the time. It’s also the shift in power of the content creator and content consumer with the rise of UGC and with how consumers can find alternatives.

We need to enable businesses and communities to allow their members to communicate, share and to find information that they need to make it easier to their job. Those same businesses and communities need to interact with the user in an appropriate manner and what better way than through the device that is more likely to be on the person.

User interfaces are improving so rapidly. It was only 6 years ago that I saw my first mobile phone with a colour screen. We’re now using multi-touch screen rich colour displays with the iPhone. There’ll always be constraints of the mobile device and a range of device characteristics, that we’ll have to deal with – let that that variety live long. Some might like a bit of bling and others might be happy their trusted and battered T610.

Think about the me – the context, the UI, the latest fashion. Think about what the user wants to do. Think about the enablers that will help us provide the service and think about the constraints that keep us focused – the small screen or AJAX killing battery life – and be ready to enable the user at the point of inspiration.