Call into play

Design opportunities for mobile services have proliferated since 3G’s arrival, says Neil Churcher

Fjord creative director Olof Schybergson has little doubt about mobile’s growing importance. ‘Mobile technology is changing society much faster than any other technology at the moment. You only need to observe teenagers for a short amount of time to realise how profound the change is. People’s sense of self and the world around them is changing, due to mobile phones.

‘In a few years’ time it will be common to use mobile devices for quick tasks such as paying for public transport or parking, checking into airlines, and checking how your Ebay bid is doing,’ he adds. Device manufacturers like Nokia are also exploiting this kind of thinking. ‘Personally, I am most excited by applications and services around personal memories like photos,’ says Nokia’s Christian Lindholm, director of the newly launched Nokia Lifeblog application. This enables mobile users to post images and stories into a mobile multimedia diary. Lifeblog is part of the new breed of screen-based offers that are beginning to find their way on to people’s phones. Elsewhere, Icon Mobile in Berlin, which was created out of MetaDesign, has been developing location-based services like its club guide for Japanese operator DoCoMo’s iMode phone, Japan’s equivalent to mobile Internet that is filtering over into Europe.

Does this mean mobile phones will turn into something more akin to a mini-computer in your pocket? Interestingly, that’s not the direction operators want. They still believe in the ‘phoneness’ of the mobile. ‘It can be hard to remember that the core user need around these things is making a call,’ says Vodafone’s Lyons. ‘I’ve met users who refuse to give up their old black and white series 40 Nokia because they find new devices too overladen with functionality.’

Grinyer believes audio is still core. ‘There has been [renewed] interest in voice and speech as interaction. We’ve always been good at voicemail and want to be even better.’ Functions that are ‘sexy’ right now include music, and to a lesser extent, TV, Lyons says. ‘As always, there is an interest in making location-based services into something profitable.’ Grinyer agrees. Orange is focusing on a service that allows mobile users to locate where the nearest cashpoint is. ‘But I’m interested in what the take-up will be. What will people be happy with?’ he asks.

This is the unknown, and that is what is exciting. Designers need to be able to understand how people will use mobile, because it is still new and evolving. Discovering this is the key, says Beeston. ‘The only way to meet [consumers’] needs is to get out there, whether in research groups or usability testing, and design for the people who use it.’

Neil Churcher is associate professor for interaction design at the Interaction Institute, Ivrea, Italy

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