Tuesday, 28 October 2014

A Question Of Mobiles

It's a long story of no interest to anyone but myself, but hell, this is my blog and if I want to be a boring old git, nobody can stop me. Bwaa haa haa etc.

I bought my first mobile - in 1994 - under enormous pressure. I hated the idea of carrying a phone around with me and loathed the sort of people you saw hefting the things around - all blue suits, white socks and green ties. Dom Jolie and so on. But then I started publishing a weekly and needed to be available in case anything happened at the printing press.

I got an Etisalat 'HudHud' - a rebadged Nokia - and the extra life battery pack. I'd been covering telecoms in the Middle East since the days of the car-phone, so the HudHud was quite impressive. It was a portable rather than a luggable, but the extra battery pack was the size of Luxembourg. Apparently a HudHud is a desert bird. Who knew?

A succession of Nokias followed. The houbara bustard sized HudHud got smaller over the years - as did the outrageous phone bills. Going from writing telecoms magazines to handling the communications strategies for telcos, I soon had a pocket full of SIMs and a deep-rooted sense that telcos simply didn't understand data. 

Telecomms people used to look down their noses at datacomms people. The telephone was mightier than the modem. I'm serious. And it started to become clear that the world's dominant handset maker had the same legacy attitude. The Nokia 6310 - I would still argue the company's brightest moment - remained resolutely mono, mini-screened and app-free. It never transitioned to a new generation, Nokia failing to understand technology adoption models and so lurching from inflection point to inflection point rather than offering users a smooth transition through iterations of an evolving platform. In technology, discontinuity invites disloyalty - users have an incentive to switch platforms if their investment in your new new thing compared to their investment in your old new thing is the same as the investment required to adopt your competitor's new new thing.

It's a thing thing. Trust me.

And the 6310 was where I got off. I clung on for ages, but nothing happened. No new model, no colour screen, no data evolution. No clear upgrade path. Time to get a Sony Ericsson, then.

What do you get when you mate an oyster and a brick? The Nokia Communicator. This was the 'future of the smartphone' and I wasn't buying. But then the Sony Ericsson experience was awful, too. Back to Nokia, which by now had colour screen 'smart' phones such as the N86 and N93. But the store (to become the ill-fated 'Ovi store') had nothing in it. No backgrounds, ringtones, apps. Nokia invented the smartphone and invented the ecosystem. It's just they didn't 'get' that an ecosystem needs to be populated, otherwise it's just barren terrain. They were a phone company playing at computers.

Boy Jobs, of course, coming at this from a computer perspective (one of those dirty 'datacomms' people, don't you know? Absolute parvenu, dahling) got it in spades. Nokia was still laughing as the water in the bath warmed up and his scalpel sliced through their sleepy carotid.

Which left me with a dumb smartphone. I stomped off and went for Google's Android. If I'm honest, I was probably a little bit angry with Jobs for killing 'my' mobile but more angry with Nokia for not understanding (them and the telcos, too) what he understood - that a mobile is a computer, not a phone. An access point to an ecosystem full of super toys and fun things. The terminal device in a rich data-driven world of high bandwidth always-on gloriousness.

It was after I'd flung my incessantly-crashing HTC at a wall that Nokia got in touch and slipped a canary-yellow Lumia my way. I loved the handset - still do. I don't like Microsoft, never really have. I hated them as a journalist (I still treasure 'official' letters of complaint from them) and never really learned to love them as their Middle East PR guy (I was, for something like five years). I tried, Lord knows I tried. But behind Barney lies an arrogant, mean, machine.

I wanted Nokia to win, to come back and show us it had worked things out and understood what was happening. I wanted there to be a third way, an alternative to Google's Moonie-evangelistic ubiquitousness or The Church of Jobs.

It's no use. It's game over. Microsoft has deleted Nokia and it's now clear that any innovation in mobile applications isn't going to be starting with Windows. Developers can't be bothered to port their apps to WinPhone and every other kid in the playground has shinier toys than me.

Now I'm in a real pickle. I can't make my mind up and it's been killing me for weeks.

Android or Apple?

1 comment:

Mita Srinivasan said...

I feel for you - I really do. The Apple phones are beautiful but I don't like their ecosystem and the fact that there are no handset options. I prefer Google because for some reason I feel I have a wider choice and now that I use Google Apps instead of Microsoft Office - it all just works for me. If you are going Android, go for the Nexus phone - it doesn't have some of the bloatware that the handset manufacturers normally put on their own version of Android phones. It just has Android. Cleaner and easier to handle.

I personally use HTC One which I like and it doesn't crash (at least it hasnt so far) but I turn off all their bloatware.

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