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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Depersonalising mobile

This is a speculative, 'what if?' post rather than one based on current observable trends.....

I regularly hear that one of the unique aspects of mobile communications is 'personalisation'. You are identifiable by a number, you have a private, non-shared, customised device with your favourite ringtone & colour scheme, and you are 'owned' and identified by your service provider.

In general, I agree - but will this always be the case?

I'm just wondering out loud, but perhaps there might be scenarios which 'depersonalise' the mobile. It's certainly not common now, but it's dependent on social dynamics & fashion, so it might change. Some possible scenarios that could muddy the waters:

- Phones shared ad-hoc among friends (eg teenagers 'swapping identities' as apparently sometimes already happens with IM or MySpace)
- Mobile numbers being allocated to shared (non-phone) devices like PCs, web tablets, consumer electronics
- Secondhand mobile phones
- Swapped prepay SIM cards
- Maybe it becomes cool to have a new phone / number every week so they get passed around
- Use of non-operator SMS-replacement clients could mean that you could 'sign in' from any phone
.... and so on.

Maybe there are specific 'depersonalisation' opportunities.... if you could automate number portability via a web interface, and couple it to ways to move your personal phonebook & profile, you could switch seamlessly between operators or phones.

You could rent an appropriately stylish phone to match your outfit for the day, then give it back & revert to your normal one. You could temporarily switch to another operator for the duration of the Olympics, if they had exclusive Mobile TV rights. You could try out all the operators in your country to find which one has the best overall coverage during the course of your day.

And maybe sharing phones could reduce the environmental impact of producing a billion handsets a year?

To be honest, this is all totally speculative on my part. I'm just musing. But it occurs to me that there would be quite a lot of business models exposed if we ever saw mass depersonalisation of mobile phones / numbers for some reason.

And look at other markets. In theory, cars (and registrations) are very personal. Yet people regularly rent cars, use taxis, lend cars to friends/family - and, recently, you have innovations like the shared City Car clubs.

I'll keep a close eye out during 2008... remember where you first heard 'mobile de-personalisation"...


fcol said...

Very interesting, Dean. You (and your readers) may also find the following snippet interesting. It's from a recent VON Mag (Nov. 2007) interview with Paul Mockapetris, who is credited with having invented the domain name system (DNS). He touches on, in hindsight, similar end-point addressing ambiguities as areas that he might have treated differently:

Begin snip: VON's Mohney: If there were three things you could go back and change about the Internet’s implementation, what would they be?

Mockapetris: Many of the basic parameters of the Internet should have been “indexed” for technical progress, so an Ethernet frame today is too small. It’s like an ATM cell given the increase in link speeds.

Routing should have been more hierarchical. The destination in a packet (what we call an address) should just be used as an index to look up something like the routable address we use today, so addresses could be portable between providers, renumbering easy, etc. Packets could be directed either to a routable address, an identifier like an Ethernet address, or a perhaps even a name. A level of indirection can solve many a problem.

I think we missed the boat in thinking of the network as a bunch of computers that needed to talk between each other. We should have started with individuals, documents, and other objects as first-class participants in the network and worked to create identities for them in the DNS or other directory and services keyed to them as endpoints.

I’ll admit to being a bit skeptical about all of the very fashionable research efforts to redesign the Internet with a “clean sheet of paper.” A lot of them look like attempts to just re-explore old ground in hopes that there’s something we missed on the first pass, rather than trying fundamentally new ideas. It also seems to me that a lot of the innovation today is in the software at the higher levels rather than new algorithms for classifying and scheduling packets. End snip.

Tim Deluca-Smith said...

With the entire mobile content industry (music, games, movies etc) geared towards creating a portable entertainment center, depersonalization would be highly dependant on the development of a client>server model in which any 'doanloaded' content (as well as contacts, emails etc) was hosted remotely and simply made available to the owner on the device they sign-in on.

People are already thinking in this way but it tears-open a real usability / user experience problem. Content is often optimized for a given device / platform type. Even devices from the same manufacturer handle content and apps in very different ways(ie: rendering of content / ringtone sizes / email clients).

The movement of existing user data / content between devices is a real pain. But who knows, if that gets solved (and ultimately it will) maybe there's something in your arguement.