Wednesday, 2 May 2007

Mobile phones and navigation: I've seen this movie before

Reuters published an article saying that navigation features are the hot new data function on mobile phones. picked it up, and by now I'm sure it's all over the Internet.

Which is fine, and very exciting. But I keep remembering all the other things that were supposed to be the hot new data functions on mobile phones. Remember mobile video? Wasn't that the cool new thing just a couple of months ago? And e-mail? And MMS? And PIM? And WAP? And so on?

And despite all that effort and all that investment, at a briefing a week ago Nokia said that mobile billings are 84% due to voice, 10% SMS, and everything else accounts for just 6%.

Maybe navigation will be different. It certainly makes intuitive sense to me that navigation should be a hot feature in a mobile device. You need navigation when you're on the go, and that's when you have your mobile device with you. Reuters quotes the market analysis firm Canalys as predicting that the mobile navigation market will grow by about two-thirds this year.

And yet, and yet...

I remember a couple of years ago, Canalys predicted that navigation features in PDAs would be the hot new thing. And they were -- for a couple of quarters, until the market collapsed. We have this weird collective ability to forget all the past disappointments when we see a cool-looking new feature. We forget that cool doesn't sell, and nice doesn't sell. What sells is a comprehensive, simple solution to a compelling need that millions of people have.

I sometimes feel as if all of us watching the mobile market are a bit like Judy Jetson. Remember her? She was the teenage girl in the Jetsons TV show family, the one who always had a new crush every episode. "Ooooh, he's the dreamiest," she would gush. And if poor old George Jetson ever asked what happened to the boy from last week, Judy would roll her eyes and say, "daddy, you're old, you just don't understand."

So maybe I'm getting old.

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