Mobile phones are destined to be tiny and no matter what technology goes in them they will still remain small. Sounds pretty trivial, yup..it is. Though this fact seems very very obvious, most of the companies are missing it by a margin and investing in a future that will never dawn in reality.
Somehow, the perception of an ideal mobile phone is a device which will let a user do everything that she can do from a desktop. A phone which will enable her to send and receive e-mails, create documents and presentations, conduct research on products and services, use search engines to look for specific information, download music, pay bills, do online banking, as well as arrange, tag and upload photos. A hope that one day the storage capacity on a mobile phone will be as large as desktops and that day we will no longer require a desktop. If you just believed in what I portrayed, probably you also missed the point here.
Lets go back to our initial postulate. mobile phone is by definition a small device and it will always be. It's largest screen, no matter how large, still 7-8 times smaller than 14 inch laptop. It's keyboard (even touch sensitive which zooms in..think iPhone) will remain smaller by a similar ratio. Given all these physical limitations, why will a user use a mobile phone to do such tasks, which she has been doing on a PC in the past. Well, the reason is simple: 1. it's on the go. 2. Mobile phone does not need to be switched on and then be waited for five minutes before it can be used. Thus, there is a trade off: Do you want to dig out from your couch and walk away to your desktop or you want to put the cable remote down and pick up your phone. And the answer quite simply depends upon the total expected time that it will take to accomplish the task.
Based upon the standard of general laziness and comfort, being a small interface, a mobile phone remains user friendly as long as the user is involved in a passive activity. In other words, the user is not running the show. Examples of passive activities are: listening to music, watching video, playing a downloaded simple game, reading comic (illustrated) book. Active ones will be: using search engines to find the best deal on printer, buying stuff from an online store, reading a novel (imagine a thick novel...War and Peace!), writing a document, creating a presentation, trying to read the A4 sized pdf copy of detailed bill. Simply put, anything that requires a lot of typing or a lot of scrolling will take the pleasure away from doing things on the mobile phone, doing things on the go.
Thus, the future of mobile phones rather lies in developing applications, which involve user passively. Apart from what is listed above, cell phone can also provide location based services, which are instant information: local weather, live score of a game, maps, closing time and phone number of top 10 restaurants around that location, very limited banking: reminders for credit payment last date and total amount due, reminders for monthly bills last date and total amount due, mortgage payments, activities around local area which can be seen in calendar, online access to personal information such as user name and passwords for different online accounts, currency converters.
The differences between active and passive activities are subtle but huge. Though there will be a variance in acceptance and choice by geography and age group, general trends will remain the same. And above all, one of the important things which cannot be ignored is pricing. Most of the customers who opt for data services, are either corporate or have high monthly income. An average customer would rather do all such activities online at home than pay $20 to do things on the go. Also, in North America where most of people drive to work will have no time accessing data services because according to my opinion, that is the time when people want to do such things - going to their office in train which takes more than 20 minutes.
While the telecom industry is struggling to get the killer application (mobile TV, VoIP), which will promote the telecom world from 2.5G users to 3G users, it will be interesting to see the kind of applications that will be developed around it. For, until the prices drop and customers see a point in doing things on phone rather than online, 3G will remain to be a technology of future.