yesterday's technology tomorrow
Sunday, January 18, 2004My view on where phones and entertainment are going
or Why I would want to put music on a phone
Last week I put up a post about the work I am currently doing to build some interesting music stuff into the latest Nokia phones.
I got a good comment about it questioning whether people would use it. So...I'm trying below to provide my view on what I think people will use relating to the technology I'm building etc.
A few years ago, say around 1996, I got very excited by things called intelligent agents, at this time, the view was that in 5 years time we would all have these super pda things that talked to each other, understood human voices and basically organised our lives like a perfect virtual butler. During the next couple of years I was fortunate to get involved working on intelligent agents and specifically focused on what were/are called recommendation systems. These systems would try and predict what someone would like given their "profile"; subsequently these systems became integral parts of sites like Amazon.com.
The ultimate aim of these systems should be to proactively and accurately recommend items to people which they will buy, consume, listen to etc.
In 1999 I founded a company, AgentArts, which was going to focus specifically on building music recommendation systems. The last 5 years have been spent tuning this technology and trying to sell it in Australia, USA and Japan. To varying degrees we have been sucessful...I guess any tech start up that is still around after 5 years and is cash flow positive is a sucess ;-)
In 1998 I got one of the first MP3 players around, the Diamond Rio. It was a flash memory based player which could hold about 64mb of songs (about 10-15 songs). Last year I bought the lowest level iPod which now costs about the same as the Diamond Rio did but which holds 10gb of songs (about 5000 songs).
In 1999 I bought a mobile phone which had no features beyond basic phone features with around 20 numbers to be stored and 1 line of display. This month I got a Nokia 6600 contains a basic phone, 32mb memory, a camera, bluetooth connections, a Java virtual machine, full colour big screen etc. Until I got the Nokia 6600 I would never had thought there was a need to have a camera on a phone but its already been very useful and fun and a great value add.
With these two data points, it very obvious to me where the technology is heading...smaller, faster etc...all the things we have seen in the PC space over the last few years.
That said, I DON'T believe that the same growth in power etc we have seen in PCs will apply in the mobile device market for two reasons 1) Power requirements. PCs have full power while mobiles have batteries...a technology which has not progressed like memory, storage, CPUs etc and 2) Heat. Todays fast pcs generate a massive amount of heat which a mobile phone could not handle as they are designed at the moment.
Asthetically and production wise, I don't believe that all these small devices will merge into one device, however, I do see a merging of small hard drives into mobile devices or phone tech into an iPod style device. The power requirements are being met, the interfaces are ok for this merger and the physical constraints are not an issue either.
So to the crux of my tech vision...I see the general public having mobile devices which they can use as telephones, PDAs, music players, and low quality digital cameras with a small hard disk on board within 2-3 years.
People will choose to use these devices as stand alone music players and mobile phones but more and more people will start to use them as communication devices which automatically form Personal Area Networks (PANs) and allow people to communicate, interact and link together.
These PANs will use technologies such as wifi and bluetooth to automatically form and emerge. PANs will be dynamic ad hoc groupings with nearly unlimited FREE bandwidth among members of the PAN and more expensive slower bandwidth to the wider world via 3G or lilly pad style links to broadband access points. You will form, deform and reform PANs as you and others move through physical space. Most importantly, these PANs and the required technology will be in all mobile devices, cost nothing to start, and will be proactive, requiringminimal intervention from the user to be part of. You simply opt in to form the networks or turn it off...jusat like turning your phone from ring to silent.
This is very unlike todays crop of calendars, syncing, browsing etc. which are hard for the general person to understand and use.
Recommendation technology can support and add to these networks in two ways.
1) As more and more content becomes available, be it photos, music, videos, information etc. recommendation technology can be used to monitor your participation in PANs and to recommend available content to you which you may like. ie. I hope on a tram/train/bus and automatically my mobile device finds other mobile devices, forms a network and exchanges details of what music each has available. Using recommendation technology, you phone would know what music you may like which is available from the limited selection available and download it automatically at ZERO cost to either party.
2) As more people have access to these mobile devices, network effects emerge which will mean that linking people to other people, not just content, can begin to be very valuable. Recommendation technology can help link people to other people based on their profiles; be those profiles based on similar interests or a need able to be fulfilled by someone or identifying a FOAF at a party or networking event. This is very heavily the social networking aspect of recommendation technologies vs 1) which is more item to item oriented and doesn't focus on the people as much as the content.
I think 2) has more value than 1) in the longer term.
So thats my view on where things are going.A platform for mobile devices which uses a recommendation system at its core to link people to other people who have things they might be interested in; be that dates, music, information, deals, skills etc. All these extra features and great functionality which really helps people, is pervasive and costs ZERO to all parties.
Random Pile of Ben
ben at neuronwave dot com