geert lovink on Sat, 29 Jun 2002 23:28:40 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> mobile: the next killer app (some comments)

(Here a part from Amy Wohl's newsletter that, in part, deals with the
cultural aspects of mobile/cellphones and that Sadie Plant also dealt with
in her Motorola study. Please note how much USA mobile phone discourse
lacks behind places like Europe, Africa and Asia. Mobile has been a killer
app for years outside of the USA. But there is hope. Apparently after 911
everyone has got to have a cell phone in the States, including the
visionary class or what's left of it. Geert)

From: "Amy Wohl" <>

AMY D. WOHL'S OPINIONS - Volume 2, Issue 26
June 28, 2002




We got quite a few interesting comments about our article on Synching as a
Mobile Application.  Some readers got the impression that I thought it was
the ONLY candidate for a killer app and wanted to nominate something else.  
Others thought voice came first (I thought I had said that, by pointing
out how well cell phones had already caught on.)

In any case, let the readers speak.


Dear Amy,

Your analysis covers many of the possible applications for wireless text,
but it misses the application that seems to be most promising in
commercial potential and most viable using current technology: instant

Like most articles about the potential of wireless, the column focuses on
fighting the last war: how do we move the wired Internet experience onto
an underpowered, slow, small handheld device? The question almost answers
itself. Current screens are too small for Web browsing. Connection speeds
are too slow for data transfer. Memory and processing power are too
limited for significant local applications. Keypad design makes data entry
too difficult. One by one, the limitations raise barriers to almost all
important applications, at least until magic bullets like 3G and better
handsets come along to save the day. Someday.

But take a close look at instant messaging. In the wired Internet, IM is a
well-accepted means of communication - just ask any 15-year-old. It's also
gaining acceptance in the corporate world, through authorized and
unauthorized use of personal IM products like AOL Instant Messenger and
through corporate groupware products like Sametime and Groove. IM offers a
middle ground between the immediacy of a phone call and the persistence of
email, and allows people to treat conversation as an integrated part of
their workday rather than as an interruption. IM could become a
communication tool on a par with the telephone, but for one problem: when
you leave your desk, you can't take it with you. Because there are no
mobile clients, IM's reach extends only as far as the desktop - much like
the telephone network before cellular. What the world needs, to make IM a
text alternative to the voice telephone, is a good mobile IM client.

Mobile IM is the killer app for wireless text, and it's within reach using
today's technology. Unlike other wireless applications, IM does not depend
on the transfer of large amounts of data. Messages tend to be small, and
presence information is even smaller. Most IM content is text, which can
be displayed acceptably well on cellular phone screens. The application to
send, receive and display messages and buddy list information should be
small and simple, well within the native capabilities of modern cell
phones. And as for text entry, corporate executives (many of whom are very
comfortable using Graffiti on their Palms) might be able to learn a bit
about message shorthand from their teenage sons and daughters. Or they
could buy Treos, or BlackBerry phones, or one of the many text-optimized
cell phones that will spring up if wireless text catches on.

And talk about synergy. Mobile IM would benefit both mobile and IM
providers. Message delivery over the air would offer the telcos a new
revenue source, whether they charged on a subscription basis or
per-message, and would probably lead to increased voice traffic as people
learn to shift conversations back and forth between text and voice. And
IM, which has already grown explosively on the desktop, would have a whole
new client base. An IM service that spans PCs and mobile devices could
give text messaging parity with voice communications, and could see
adoption rates similar to those the telcos experienced when they
introduced cellular telephone services.

There are companies that are already well on their way to developing
wireless IM services for the American market. Check out the work being
done by Openwave, whose products will run on 2.5G networks, and Comverse.

And for precedent, just look anywhere else in the world. European telcos
added SMS to their GSM phone standard as an afterthought, as a way of
distributing official announcements from telcos, and messaging became a
dominant consumer application in that market. Messaging was also the
breakthrough application for NTT DoCoMo's i-mode service in Japan. It
happened there; it can happen here. Soon, I hope.

Rich Stillman

NOTE from the Editor:

I think Richard brings up an important idea.  It's one that I have
by-passed, largely because I'm not an IM user.  I think most people who
use or want to use IM in business are personal IM users - I'm not.  At
work I sit at my computer whenever I'm in the office and I use email as my
preferred method of communication.  I really use it like IM but without
the interruption of letting people know whether I'm available or not.  I
chose to reply or not to.  At home, I only sit down at the computer once
or twice, usually for short periods of time - not a typical IM profile.  
I think a good question is whether there are lots of business users who
want to use the technology.  I don't know that answer. (Amy)


My good friend Mark Stahlman, who has written here before, comments on the
topic of privacy.


A little recognized FACT (by most of the people I've ever spoken with
about Japanese markets) -- PRIVACY is a very precious commodity (in
particular in the consumer market since so many young people live at home
with their parents).

In addition, as McLuhan noted, Americans go OUTSIDE to be alone, whereas
many others go OUTSIDE to be social . . . thus "mobility" has *very*
different connotations in different cultures. Mark


I agree that privacy is important in Japan, but my observation -- from
visiting and working there -- is that it means something different to a
Japanese person than it does to us.  A Japanese person can achieve privacy
by simply not looking at or seeing something -- so that co-ed naked
bathing is perfectly respectable at the Okura hotel's hot tub, which
shocked me at first -- because no one "sees" anyone else.

I'm not at all sure I agree with the comment that Americans go outside to
be alone and others go outside to be social.  There's plenty of American
literature that's based upon people who seek privacy in indoor solitude
and reams of family sociology written about American children who slam
their doors or put Do Not Disturb signs on them to achieve privacy in
doors. I think this is a cultural thing. Amy


Christopher Jaggi thinks that we'll keep adding to the voice-related

Amy, the mobile killer app is already on the market and used by more than
a billion people: mobile voice.

There's a second killer app: a voice-mailbox for the mobile phone, also
used by hundreds of millions of people.

There will be more voice-related killer apps.

Mobile might just be another word for having local access to people
(voice) and data when you are on the road. This does not necessarily mean
that the data is remote.

The Internet is not the web. You can have mobile applications that use the
Internet, but do not touch the web at all. The Internet is a transport

I'm working on a paper, which looks at some of those things in more
detail, so I will be able to share more stuff.

Christopher Jaggi

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