Insight 12

This article was written by David Wood and published on the Symbian corporate website in August 2006

Insight 12: Unexpected convergence

One way you can tell the health of a product platform is via the number of happy product surprises it gives you. If a product platform is past its prime, new products will still arise from it, but they’ll tend to be repetitions on a theme – more of the same as before. These new products might cause some intellectual interest, but they won’t turn your head. But with smartphones, there are pleasant shocks and surprises nearly every week. New smartphone applications regularly reach out to touch unexpected areas of our lives – areas that we previously thought had nothing to do with smartphones.

8342_lgFor example, take golf. Previously, it has been possible to play simulations of golf on various handsets. But that’s virtual golf, not real golf. You progress through these games by carefully pressing and releasing buttons on the smartphone keypad, not by swinging a real-world golf club. However, Nokia recently turned this on its head, by releasing their Pro Session Golf Application for the N93 smartphone. This application capitalises on the excellent video recording capabilities of the N93. The result is that you can improve your real-world golf skills. While on the golf course, you can ask one of your playing partners to film you as you strike the ball. The N93 fits comfortably into a pocket, so there’s no worry about having to drag heavy equipment with you around the golf course. The filming takes a little practice, as you have to learn to line up the picture against the template of a golf professional that is displayed on the screen. But you soon get the knack. Then the intelligence that’s in the smartphone comes to the fore:

  • You can take a look at how your swing matches up to that of professional players
  • You can compare various angles, such as the angle you hold the club
  • You can compare the timing of aspects of your swing.

To quote Dave Phillips, co-founder of the Titleist Performance Institute, and voted one of the top 100 golf teachers in America: “The Nokia golf application is potentially one of the most exciting teaching and learning tools available today. For the teacher and student the Pro Session Golf will be an extremely valuable tool that will speed up the learning curve by creating a clearer understanding of the golf swing.”

As another example, consider the electric guitar. Tim Cole, Head of Audio at Tao, has described the smartphone as “the new electric guitar”, and will be making a presentation with that name at the Symbian Smartphone Show on the 17th of October. One connection between smartphones and music is already well known: smartphones can store music, and can play it back to users on the move. In this way, the smartphone takes over functionality from the iPod and other MP3 players. But Tim Cole is talking about another big step forwards. He emphasises the opportunity for people to use the intelligence of the smartphone to mix and edit music to their own tastes. The handy mobility of the device, coupled with its graphic user interface and first-class music features, allows groups of youngsters (and the young-at-heart) to exercise their own artistic creativity – whether in garages, bedrooms, or the local park. And once music has been crafted to their liking, it can be instantly emailed to friends, from smartphone to smartphone.

Next, consider TV recording. The smartphone isn’t just a means to watch TV programmes while you’re away from a large TV screen. That’s phenomenal, but in a way it’s old news. The surprising new use case is the ability, when you are travelling, to use the smartphone to instruct your home TV system to record a programme that you would otherwise miss. For example, using the Sky-By-Mobile service, users who are Sky+ subscribers can view the electronic TV guide from their home TV, and select programmes to be recorded, ready for more leisurely viewing on the big screen at a suitable future date. No longer do you have to remember to “set the video” before you leave the house.

img8343In similar vein, let’s consider laundry. Whirlpool, the world’s largest appliance company, has recently been conducting a trial in Atlanta, involving washing machines and tumble driers equipped with simple wireless communications. These devices can send messages to selected mobile phones, reporting (for example) that a wash cycle has completed, or that a drier has not been turned on. To quote Tim Woods, vice president for the Internet Home Alliance: “Laundry is drudgery, so why not take that pain away because you can apply technology and help consumers with a solution.” In both this and the previous example, smartphones are taking on more of the role of “universal remote control for the home”.

What about checking into hotels? Imagine you arrive at your hotel and find a long line of people waiting to check in ahead of you at the reception. That can be a real morale deflator. Marriott are experimenting with a time-saving automated system that allows smartphone users to check into their room remotely – for example, during the taxi ride to the hotel from the railway station or airport. By interacting with the screen on your smartphone, you can check room rates, change room type, and get ready to quickly pick up a key from an automated dispenser in the hotel lobby.

And let’s not forget health. 80% of adult American Internet users have used the Internet to research information about diseases, health care, and other medical topics. It’s no surprise that users of smartphone access similar online information from their mobile web browsers. However, smartphones are communicators as well as information browsers. The new “3G Doctor” service utilises the communicator features. It furnishes busy users the opportunity to meet with qualified General Medical Council registered doctors by 3G video calling. This addresses the fact that many young adults often feel they are too busy (or are too embarrassed) to take the time off their work and other activities to attend a doctor’s surgery. 3G Doctor makes it easy for users to supply medical information via an online form, and then one of the registered doctors rings the user for a 3G video consultation. The impact of face-to-face communication adds to the authenticity of the experience. But that’s not all:

  • Other smartphone applications can provide and record information about exercise systems. Smartphones with location-tracking capabilities can record the distance you travel while jogging or walking, and can calculate your average speed, calories burned, and so on
  • Other peripherals can record additional health-related information, such as pulse rate and body temperature. The smartphone can monitor the information, and can automatically raise an alarm in any case when the data falls outside a pre-determined band. Smartphones can also be programmed to remind users to take medication at regular times throughout the day
  • Smartphone monitoring of a patient’s health statistics isn’t just something that could appeal to the patient. It could also take a lot of costs out of overall health care. Rather than a patient occupying an expensive bed in a hospital, there should be many advantages to the patient going home a few days early, towards the end of a recuperation period. By some estimates, reducing the typical 10-day hospital stay for stroke victims by just two days could save nearly $3 billion per annum.

Of course, medical consultations aren’t the only kind of telephone call where there’s benefit from seeing the face of the person you’re talking with. In some parts of the world, such as Hong Kong, there’s considerable interest in fortune-telling by phone. Apparently people feel it works better if you and the fortune-teller can see each other’s face. That’s presumably because there’s more to what someone says than just the words used and the tone of voice. There’s a considerable additional amount that is conveyed in the look of the face, in hand gestures, and in other body language. In classic experiments in the 1960s, Albert Mehrabian, Professor of Psychology, UCLA, established the following breakdown for the effectiveness of spoken communications when discussing feelings and attitudes:

  • 7% of meaning is in the words that are spoken
  • 38% of meaning is paralinguistic (the way that the words are said, including the tone of voice)
  • 55% of meaning is non-verbal (facial expressions and other body language).

Finally, consider the flip-side of fortune-telling, namely gambling. Users of the UK Betfair online “betting exchange” service often wish they could continue to engage in monitoring and exchanging bets while away from their PCs. They sometimes ring up Betfair and ask if such a thing as a mobile betting terminal exists. In many cases, they would be willing to pay significant amounts of money for such a terminal. But then they are delighted to find out that their existing mobile phone can be just such a terminal. They don’t need to buy a dedicated terminal. They just need to download a new application to run on their phone.

That makes a total of eight examples. In each case, a relatively low-tech part of life is in the process of being subtly transformed by a relatively unanticipated new application or service on advanced mobile phones. In retrospect, once you’ve got over the initial surprise, these applications may seem “obvious”. But hindsight is a marvellous teacher. What is obvious after the event is frequently a surprise when it first appears. That’s why we can speak about “unexpected convergence”. Areas of life are being unexpectedly connected via the marvellous electronic brainpower and network connectivity of the smartphone.

For sake of brevity, I’ve stopped after just eight examples. If you’d like to see more, the best place to look is the Symbian Smartphone Show, held annually in October. This year, we’re expecting 200 exhibiting companies, and 60 free seminars. That’s ample scope for plenty more surprises. If you have the chance to attend, I’ll be interested to hear your views as to the most striking examples of smartphone innovation that grab your attention.

Although the specific examples of convergence are surprises, the general fact of convergence is not. It’s Symbian’s vision to enable the diverse visions of multiple different players in the smartphone space. It’s our goal to ensure that we are frequently surprised by the fulfilment of these diverse visions. When we’re surprised, it doesn’t mean we are at fault – for failing to anticipate individual applications and services. On the contrary, it means that we have succeeded – in facilitating a maelstrom of shocking creativity.

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