Lull Before the Storm?

by on April 19, 2007

Cultural issues and technology are subtle things so I may be barking up the wrong tree, but on my recent trip to Japan, I met some teenagers who told me that they didn’t know much about computers (I’d told them that I design web sites. They were not impressed).

Instead, they use their phones for almost everything. Why didn’t they use computers? The answer seemed to be that they didn’t need to, so had no interest in them. Computers are big, phones are small. You need training for computers – but everyone can use a phone, they said. This latter statement appears to be true. I was struck by the consistency of the physical interfaces of most people’s phones in Japan, even across vendors the key layouts are pretty much the same, and I assume the virtual interfaces are therefore similar too. Why shouldn’t they be when content is king and the network operators business models are stable? Adults (sometimes even quite old ones) talked about their phones in the same way as quite young people in the West do, but not in terms of the features – they cared about the content.

I sometimes wonder if my skill set is too web-based, too classically client-server and desktop orientated. For all I know, a wave of mobile usage scenarios that I can barely guess at is going to break over my little world and obliterate it. How long can I chuckle over what I see as the risible user experience of contemporary mobile comms in the West and its utter failure – so far – to engage people?

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