Mobile Trends: The Cell Phone Body Count

3/23/09Follow @danshapiro

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144 full sized keys of QWERTY. Email’s falling into disuse with the younger set, but they still use the full-size keyboard for instant messaging, blogging, posting to their social networks, and other things that require heavy-duty text entry. If email sinks soon, it’ll be under the weight of a dozen PC alternatives, not the mobile one. The GET here is simple—45 words per minute. Danger level: low.

Laptops—You’ll still take it with you.
Travel-weary executives dreaming of the day when their backs no longer ache from lugging around heavy laptops will have to keep wishing. E-mailing and messaging capabilities are good enough on a phone for short trips, but who really wants to create Excel spreadsheets and edit lengthy documents on a screen the size of a sticky note? It may save a basket in the metal detector line at the airport, but the GET here is text that 40-year-old eyes can read. Danger level: low.

Console gaming—Target acquired.
While hardcore gamers will want an oversized graphics accelerator under the hood—never good for a power-sipping phone—the big play here is casual games. That’s Tetris, not Tekken. The GET is Solitaire, the most popular game in the world, and it plays just great on a phone. Studios like Gamehouse, Popcap, and Sandlot are making sure that the new generation of casual blockbusters like Bejeweled, Zuma, and Diner Dash will be released side-by-side on phones, PCs, and consoles. There’ll always be the power-user market, but for the mainstream, phones are poised to seize the future of gaming. Danger level: high.

MP3 players—The iPhone tolls for thee.
Storage, battery life, and a decent interface—the iPhone (and, less noticed, just about every smartphone on the market) has proven it can be done, and the clock is ticking. To date, only Apple has made it reasonably simple to fill the thing with music. Players like nuTsie and Sprint’s new music service are pushing sub-$100 phones over that hurdle. This GET is gated on the design teams: as soon as they start shipping phones that slurp up your music collection without a forest of cables and complicated software, kiss the standalone MP3 player goodbye. Danger level: high.

Television—staying on the airwaves.
Mobile TV’s coming, and it’s going to be everywhere. But the experience just isn’t the same on a phone. Bigger is way better in this case, and two hours vegging on the couch is going to trounce ten minutes of channel-flipping on the bus every time. The GET for TV is simply not in sight yet. TV will take some hits but emerge strong. Danger level: low.

A local furniture store used to advertise, “Free is a very good price.” As technologies get miniaturized, cost-reduced, and subsidized, consumers are starting to agree. Keep an eye on the cell phone—and an eye on your business. Your Good Enough Threshold may be just around the corner.

Dan Shapiro is the CEO of Robot Turtles, a crowdfunded boardgame that teaches children programming. He previously worked at Google after it acquired his company, Sparkbuy. Follow @danshapiro

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  • http://www.bonanzle.com Bill Harding

    No kidding about the death of the point and shoot! We just got a pricey new one a few months ago. I have yet to turn it on. Over the same time period, I’ve shot more than 100 pictures with my camera phone. This is especially damning when one considers that my camera phone has about 1/10th the acuity of the point and click, and of course, no flash.

    Another casualty of my phone that isn’t mentioned here: GPS systems. I just got a new one of those about a year ago, and already donated it to my girlfriend. Takes too long to setup, when I can flip open my phone and get all the location/directions I need within seconds.

  • http://www.xconomy.com/author/wroush/ Wade Roush

    Insightful piece! A few additions to the list of victims:

    Dead and buried: The PDA. When was the last time you saw someone using an organizer that wasn’t also a phone?

    Endangered: Handheld GPS units. These days, smartphones with GPS chips and large color screens can do everything dedicated GPS units can do. Garmin, Magellan, and Tom Tom will be relegated to selling dash-mounted GPS units for cars—and mobiles could take over that area too, if verbal turn-by-turn instructions come to the iPhone and other platforms, as promised.

    Endangered: Dedicated video players like the Creative Zen line. But they were never a popular category anyway.

    Soon to lose their niche: Pocket-sized HD video cameras like the Flip. As soon as CCDs and memory get a bit cheaper, manufacturers will cram the same stuff into a smartphone.

    Of course, once a “phone” starts to do all of the things we’re talking about here, it’s legitimate to ask whether it should even be called a phone. It’s more like a multiband wireless media capture, storage, and display device. We need a new name for these powerful little gadgets. I vote for “tricorder.”

  • http://www.ontela.com Dan Shapiro

    Brilliant additions! The HD video camera example particularly strikes home – I tried Samsung’s OmniaHD which records (and displays) 720p video. If I’d known that was coming, I wouldn’t have got an HD video camera.

  • http://www.sterlingpr.com Kevin Pedraja

    Name suggestion: if the iPhone was the Jesus Phone, then this new all in one device should be the GodPod.

  • http://www.mobileresearch.com David Adams

    Maybe a little premature. Instant film cameras (polaroid) were predicted to kill off the film SLR cameras as well. They didn’t, and the reason was quality. I agree that the mobile phone will probably displace the lower end cameras, but the biggest problem phone cameras have right now is poor quality. There are quite a few phones now that have integrated cameras with impressive resolutions, but I’ve yet to see one that could provide enough light from its flash to take decent photos inside after dark. I think the tipping point may have to wait a little, like everything else, for the batteries to get much better so we can get some real xenon strobes on the phones.

    Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe consumers don’t care. There sure are a lot of really grainy pictures on facebook taken with camera phones, but I’m guessing down the road our generation is going to feel the same regret my grandparents had about the Polaroids.

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