And so we approach the end of the noughties. It hasn’t quite provoked the veritable flood of fin de siecle considerations we had in ’99, but we’re still getting a steady trickle of celebrities, journalists and thinkers (the terms are not, fortunately, mutually exclusive, but neither is there are complete overlap amongst any of the categories) who are (a) ruminating wistfully about the decade past, and (b) chancing their arm with what might loosely and conveniently be dubbed predictions as to what the next year might have in store.
Well, Channel 4 hasn’t come a-knockin’, so this will be my forum for assessing where we’ve come from, and we’re we’re going, with the mobile. Let’s take (a) to begin with. When the noughties dawned, mobile phone penetration in the UK stood at a humble forty per cent (and thirty per cent in the US, fact fans), UK customers had sent a whole billion text messages over the course 1999; a smattering of people with Nokia handsets had adopted mono ringtones; a few operators were poised to launch GPRS networks which would enable data downloads at 100kbit/s (yeah, right); and, governments were drawing up the licensing process for futuristic third-generation networks that would offer the killer app of videotelephony within a couple of years.
In case you hadn’t noticed, or celebrated the millennium in spectacular fashion and have only just woken up, we’ve moved on a bit. Everyone has a mobile phone – except my mother – and most of us have cameras in them; in the UK, we have sent over 80 billion texts between us this year; about a third of us have 3G phones. And those nice people at Apple who make the Macs have turned the mobile ecosystem upside down.
Oh, and mobile videotelephony was a damp squib.
It really has been an extraordinary decade for the mobile, which is now up there with the wallet and house keys in terms of must-have items when we leave the house; it is our address book, our camera, our photo album, our 24/7 means of accessing social networks (note to those just recovering from your millennium excesses: social networks are new this decade. Look them up on Wikipedia. That’s new too, but you’ll soon get the hang of it.)
So much for the past: where are we heading? All I can say with any certainty is: I don’t know. That’s right, I don’t know. I have expectations as to what may happen, based on assumptions derived from trends I have observed over the past year/two years/decade in this industry, on tenuous timetables for product launches, on what I have been told by operators and vendors; but I cannot predict the future.
As the great Peter Medawar once observed:
“Wise folk may or may not form expectations about what the future holds in store but the foolish can be relied on to predict with complete confidence that certain things will come about in the future or that others will not. It is well worth insisting upon the clear distinction of meaning between the two. A prediction always pretends to foreknowledge where an expectation is merely a hypothesis with a future setting; a hypothesis which the passage of time will either corroborate or confound.”
The problem is that “expectations” isn’t a very sexy word; nobody searches for “Top 10 Expectations for 2010”. So, although it’s somewhat of a misnomer, we too have our Top 10 Predictions (based on assumptions derived from trends etc – see above for full methodology). We fully expect 3G networks to face severe constraints on their capacity as users wholeheartedly embrace Internet on the mobile: only last week, Ralph de la Vega, President and CEO of AT&T, warned ominously of the need to introduce “incentives” to reduce average data usage amongst high-end customers. We expect operators and vendors to ramp up drives to improve sustainability and reduce CO2 emissions, and for a raft of “ecotainment” apps to hit handsets and app stores. We expect to see far more deployment of cloud-based platforms, services and apps.
It should be an interesting year. ..
(And a final note to those emerging from their hangover of 1999: sorry, guys. Network coverage is still ropey in most rural areas. And on trains.)