Friday, April 18, 2008

2008 - The Year of MVS (Mobile Visual Search)?

KDDI just announced today that it will launch a new "visual" search capability this Spring. With this technology, KDDI subscribers with these phones will be able to use their camera to take a photograph of something (this article mentions things such as CD covers or Wine bottle labels) and immediately get search results related to these objects.

The engine behind this search tool is a company out of the U.S. called Evolution Robotics and its ViPR object recognition software. A demo of this software running on the iPhone shows how you can take photos of different things and get search results returned via email.

Earlier this week, our friends over at Wireless Watch Japan clued us into a new Google Android GPS Application that allows users to have a computer-mediated mapping and navigation services available through Android-enabled mobile phones.

These, and the many other related solutions that I haven't mentioned are truly amazing, and suggest that in the near future we will see a number of attempts to use the mobile phone as a bridge between the "real world" and digital information related to it.

But beyond the hype, I'm very interested in seeing how these new technologies can and will be used by mobile consumers. Are these recent announcements true harbingers of the future, or will they lead to consumer apathy and confusion?

Today's announcement from KDDI, Bandai and Evolution Robotics suggests that it will only be a matter of a little more time before we get some initial answers to these questions. But in order to succeed, the user interface must be extremely elegant, the database overly robust, and the value of such services versus competing technologies must be clearly communicated.

Will this be the future? Let me know what you think!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Disappointed about Mobile TV

As I discussed in this article for Wireless Watch Japan in 2004, both the underlying business model (or lack of one) and the mismatch with consumer usage of the mobile platform make the concept of a robust Mobile TV experience continue to keep the reality of mobile TV as a distant hope. Just yesterday, Nokia announced that it was "disappointed" by the failure of consumers to use Mobile TV on Nokia handsets. Why is there such a surprise?

The full press release went like this:
HELSINKI, April 11 (Reuters) - Nokia (NOK1V.HE: Quote, Profile, Research) said on Friday its push to promote mobile television broadcasting has not succeeded as the world's top cellphone maker had hoped. Nokia has been for years promoting television broadcasts to cellphones and its digital video broadcasting handheld (DVB-H) technology won EU support earlier this year, but only a few operators in Europe have opened any TV broadcasting services.

"It's a bit in a turmoil," Niklas Savander, head of Nokia's Internet services, told a conference in Helsinki.

Most people who watch TV programmes on their cellphones use third-generation (3G) mobile networks, bringing in long-awaited data transmission fees to operators, but these limit picture quality and user numbers.

"We have seen that there are multiple segments who are not interested in the broadcasting, but rather in downloads. Roll out is slower than also we anticipated a couple of years ago," Savander said.

(Reporting by Tarmo Virki; Editing by Erica Billingham)

Although it's been four years since my original article, I believe that the points raised remain the same. The intersection of Mobile TV and the mobile phone mandates that TV broadcasting must change, or as this press release from Nokia explains, consumers will simply move to using the mobile phone as a time-shifting, or record and playback device.

Here's to the future of Mobile TV!

Monday, April 14, 2008

Made to order phone

With research showing that consumers use less than 80% of the features that come pre-packaged in their phone, the rise in startups dedicated to creating made-to-order phones will surely rise. For example, US-based zzzPhone is already making GSM phones on demand. This seems to be the beginning of an important trend in mobile handset design and development. Should the Mobile Consumer Lab incubate a new business in this area? Your comments would be highly appreciated!

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Mobile Senses

I usually get a number of strange looks from Lab students when I start to talk about the mobile phone enabling or extending our human senses. I get most of my inspiration for these ideas from Marshall McLuhan, whose books serve as regular guides for the work that I do. But now this week, two separate announcements are proving that such innovations are clearly moving forward. The first announcement (and the one that will likely have far quicker and more immediate uptake) was the introduction of a Braille phone that allows for person to person communications through vibrations rather than text. While the current application is geared towards text messaging, an obvious next step is to integrate this with Location Based information to create a wide range of services to support those with limited or no sight.

The second, although far more bizarre, is the announcement by NTT DoCoMo of its "breakthrough" smell-phone , equipped with a fragrance emitting plug-in. Aside from the obvious questions about the consumer adoption of such technologies, Marshall McLuhan must be smiling about this one. These two announcements clearly take the mobile phone to the heights of being both a "hot" and "cool" media.