Saturday, August 20, 2005


mobile applications: just-in-time, not simply anytime

As of last week New Zealand has two 3G networks now running, so in theory we may see development of nifty applications that will make life richer and more productive while on the go. But I am cautious this will happen. The applications and content I have seen so far for 3G looks like it is designed to kill time, rather than make time more productive.

Mobile applications promise to deliver "anytime, anywhere." But people don't just want anything available at anytime at any random place they happen to be. What they want is specific content relevant to specific needs in specific circumstances.

One big 3G offering is video clips of movie trailers. I can see scenarios where that could be useful to have on a phone. Say you were with a group of people in a restaurant, deciding what movie to see. One person speaks enthusiastically about a film she saw a preview for, but others don't know about it. Download the trailer, and everyone can see it and decide if they want to go. So far, so good. But the decision is only half made. The group needs to find a cinema showing the film, get the schedule, and most importantly get tickets, which might be sold out. The entire process is wasted if after making a decision, and finding a nearby cinema showing at a convenient time, the film is sold out.

I'm a last minute planner, and get frustrated when trying to do seemingly simple things like eat a meal or watch a film on short notice. In Wellington at least, I can get an odd stare when I ask if there are tables available at an ordinary restaurant. Did I make a booking? Not me, I think about food when I'm hungry. I want to call up a list of restaurants near where I am, and see which of them have tables available. Why can't 3G help me avoid being a hungry nomad wandering from restaurant to restaurant looking for one with a vacant table? Such an application would tap into the power of "presence": showing one's availability to interact with others. A restaurant could indicate it has tables available, if it could dare to disclose the fact that some nights it is not fully booked. Generally businesses like to hide information about the availability of supply, and create the illusion that supply is scarce. But eBay, Travelocity and other online markets show that consumers want to know availability.

So far, even "location-based services" around the world are few in number; New Zealand has none at all. Location-based services are fine for finding a 24 hour ATM/cash point, but generally don't go far enough. What is needed is time-based, location-based services. People want to know what they can do nearby, at this very time.

Time-killing mobile phone applications like games and music are fine for teens fleeing their parents' house. Time-enhancing applications are what the rest of us will need to embrace 3G.

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