All-in-one mobile devices?

29 Apr 2010|Leigh Marinner

Several years ago Cheskin was asked whether the mobile phone would move toward the swiss army knife model of many functions in one device. And we concluded that it would not, because of the tradeoffs users would have to make – shortened battery life, inadequate keyboard to play games, small display, etc.

And yet we find that the mobile phone is becoming a multi-purpose device. With very few tradeoffs, smartphones can transmit conversations, send text messages, surf the internet, replace the auto GPS, and play games. What happened that we didn’t expect?

First, many of these activities don’t use a lot of battery power. Second, the phone interface evolved with the touch screen so that it was much easier to input data. Third, the internet interface improved so that the mobile internet was actually usable. Fourth, we assumed that to be an all-in-one device the phone would have to provide the same level of functionality as the portable device it was replacing. And when we look at mobile games, this is clearly not true. There was an unmet consumer need for simple games which didn’t need to same controllers. Fifth, new geolocation functionality supported a variety of new uses, such as social games like FourSquare and voice-directed GPS.

In fact the iPhone has become such a useful device for non-voice functions, that it is a huge success although many users claim it is not a very good phone. Hard to believe it could succeed, isn’t it?

In retrospect, we made some mistakes which are common when trying to predict the future. We underestimated the effect device and platform changes would have on the feasibility of new functionality and we assumed that the cell phone would have to match the capability of single purpose devices like the PSP.

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