RE: Mobile is dead!

Ari Jaaksi, one of the important directors at Nokia, recently blogged that the Mobile Internet is dead. He goes on to say that the future is smart devices, like his brainchildren, the N770/N800.

He is right that WAP and browsing full sites via a small screen is a exercise in patience — and therefore dead. He goes on to say that the when you create a small version of something, it doesn’t sell. So, trying to create a small mobile internet, it won’t sell because everyone wants to access the real internet instead. He also says that mobile smart/phones will also die and give their place to even more capable mobile devices, like his N800. Ari is correct in these points. No one wants to eat a fat-free ice cream or chocolate, when the real taste is on their full-fat versions.

While Ari is open minded on these things, he doesn’t go as far as he should go in his thinking. He sees 5 years down the line, but not 15. See, there was a time where WML/WAP served its customers pretty well. But times changed and people wanted the real internet thing. And there was a time that cellphones did their job and everyone was happy, but then times changed again and people wanted more. And there you have it, smartphones appeared in the market. Ari argues that their time will pass again, and devices like the N800 — with a full OS/screen-resolution– will conquer the market. What he FAILS to realize is that his own argument is what will be the death knell of devices like his. You see, who the hell would want to buy an N800-equivalent in 10 years time if it can’t run the full Ubuntu OS? Why have a small, incompatible version of Linux instead of “the real thing”? Just like the internet(s) has become a commodity today, the same will be true for OSes.

This is what Ari fails to realize: that his own creation, the N800 which is ahead of its time today, it’s already a dead idea if you try to envision it having a place in 10 years in the future. Just like WML is dead because today we want access to the “sexier Internet” (his words), in a same way there will be a time where the “N900″ will be laughed upon for not being able to be binary compatible with Ubuntu (or Fedora/SuSE) and not being able to run the EXACT same applications unmodified. No one would want a dumped down Linux just like today people don’t want a dumped down internet.

So basically what I am saying is that Microsoft’s idea, the already *failed* UMPC, is an idea that can work wonders in 10 years time. It’s a product idea ahead of its time. Right now, everyone can get their kicks with a good smartphone or the N800, but in 10 years time, the “internet will be sexier” (his words), and so people will need more and more and more features, features that can only be found in the desktop versions of their OSes/hardware. Hence, the rebirth of the UMPC/phone/kitchen-sink.

Another approach to the same problem of “I want the same functionality in my smartUMPC as I have on my PC”, is to create an operating system like Google tried to do: all user data live on a server, and then different vector-based UIs fit on different devices without dumping down on features. So no matter if you are on a huge 4000×3000 30″ screen or on an XGA 5″ touchscreen, you won’t be robbed of most of the features you need.

2 Comments » wrote on May 22nd, 2007 at 5:44 AM PST:

i would say that the N800 is in many ways a very slimmed down UMPC, but thats me…

as for roope’s comment on the gui. i would say that if you design a gui with the finger in mind from day one, it can be used with both a stylus and mouse later on.

but if you design with a mouse or stylus in mind first, its very hard to go the other way.

basically, everything have to be of a size where a finger can hit one without hitting any other. sure, looking at it from a computer screen it may look bloated and a waste of area, but what if said screen was touch sensitive?

Roope Rainisto wrote on May 22nd, 2007 at 10:11 AM PST:

Hi. I think you perhaps misinterpreted Ari a bit. He is saying:

“Today, we run Linux, X, Gnome, Flash, and friends on Nokia N800. Our big idea form the start was to run –as closely as possible– a desktop Linux stack. Others will start to do the same and I predict that mobile software will thus eventually die. All we need is software that runs everywhere.”

I at least read that saying as saying that yes, compatibility with desktop operating systems is a valid target. Of course it’s still a some ways away, because of both the performance and the user interface issues. Performance issues will get solved, the user interface issues will be the most interesting ones.

It is by no means trivial to design an application where the UI would scale elegantly to both the desktop size and a really small mobile display size. It really requires a quite radical rethinking of the task flows etc. That is imho one of the current problems with many of the UMPC’s and other initiatives, they just take the desktop UI and try to make it fit. Mobile device use is different in many aspects, and in order to provide good usability, it requires a more fundamental rethinking of the UI that what is generally the norm. So even if everything would run in a technical sense, and even if the UI would be “drawn on screen correctly”, I don’t think that that would be the point where the goal of desktop-like mobility would be achieved.

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