Jeremy Osborn: Designer, Educator, Writer

Jul 15

Quick thoughts on the mobile future

As someone who has spent years talking about, participating in and observing the world of creative media, I recently realized that the “mobile future” I (and others) have been talking about is now the “mobile present”. This is not a particularly astute observation on my part, but I’ve felt this on a more visceral level recently after some recent observations.

  • On a recent business trip I noticed many Amazon Kindles on the airplane, and on a completely anecdotal level I noticed many of them were in the hands of passengers whose hair was decidedly gray. It might sound a bit trite or condescending (it’s not meant to be) but to watch a 70-something browse and purchase e-books wirelessly while our plane was boarding was nothing short of amazing.
  • For years, I have told students who were interested in getting in on the next “big thing” to start designing for mobile devices immediately. I no longer feel the need to say this as I keep coming across former students (originally trained in graphic and web design) gettin’ paid to design for mobile devices. The path for opportunity here is clear.
  • Interestingly, although its cultural impact is a done deal (with 1 million units sold in 1 month), I have yet to see an iPad in the wild. The iPhone/iTouch, on the other hand, is *everywhere*, from the subways of NYC to the swamps of Savannah, I have seen more iPhones this month than I could have imagined.

So what does the mobile future hold in store for us? For hints of this what better place to look than the two innovators in the market: Apple and Google. Much has been written about the increasing competition between these two and it is inevitable that these two companies can only grow further apart. At heart are the similarities and differences in culture. The basic narrative goes like this: Apple’s success in the growing mobile market is largely due to their innovation and focus on the ease of use of their products.  Google also has a well-deserved reputation for creating simple interfaces however and because Google gets “the internet” they might steal Apple’s lead with the Droid.

You need only look at the  parallel moves each company has made in the last 6 months or so to see where we are headed.

  • In December 2009 Apple bought Lala (once my favorite place to stream music online.) In May 2010 Google bought Simplify Media which was once my favorite place to share music with friends. In all likelihood these will form the basis of the upcoming Google Music versus iTunes Live.
  • Also in May Google announces “Google TV” where TV meets the Web. Since May, Apple’s neglected Apple TV system has shown signs of resuscitation with recent news that they may begin streaming services (rather than just downloads) and rumors that the next-generation of Apple TV will share the same operating system as the iPad/iPhone (iOS).

There are other worthy examples of this competition: Apple’s iAd platform being an exceptionally interesting shot across the bow of Google. In the end it helps to keep in mind that although they seem headed on collision course, they have fundamentally different businesses. Google will always look for new ways to get people on the Web, because that’s where the ads are and that’s Google’s bread and butter. Apple is a hardware company that focuses on consumer mobile devices, only 25% of their 2010 revenue came from selling computers. Almost 60% of Apple’s revenue came from the combined sales of the iPhone, iPods and the iPad. Watching how Google and Apple compete over the next few years will be an interesting sideshow, but it is their similarities not their differences that will define what the mobile world will look like in 5 years.

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Jeremy Osborn's Blog

This is the weblog of Jeremy Osborn, a designer, educator and writer living in the Boston area. I write here about design, technology and other matters. Subscribe to the RSS feed and follow me on Twitter.

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