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  • Hello you. I'm a 38-year old MSc student, studying Advanced Computer Science at Sussex University. I'm especially interested in Internet and mobile software, sensors and pervasive computing, user interfaces, and the process of developing great software.

    Before that I spent 11 years running Future Platforms, a software company I co-founded which makes lovely things for mobile phones, and which I sold in 2011.

    I read a lot, write here, and practice Aikido and airsoft. I live in Brighton, a seaside town on the south coast of the UK, with two cats and a clown.


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« John Strand on the iPhone | Main | Dev links »

December 27, 2008



Tom, I'd look at the corresponding bump in netbooks. Loads of people are not interested in screen real estate and mflops. A psion 3 used to be for a geek or a geek/exec multi-class. a netbook is for your granny who wants her email, has a BT wifi connection, and doesn't want to carry a 12"/14"/17" screen in her handband, as capacious as it may be. Well, maybe your mum.

iphone/smartfone or weeny laptop - both now deliver enough connectivity and capability for those who have traditionally not figured in the wired demographic. It's skewing the requirements curve back away from the laptop-as-desktop MS office/gamer demands and back to where portable devices should sit: as capable stand-alone systems, not limited adjuncts to the 'main machine'.

Of course, this is all IMHO. I have no figures to back any of this up.


err: handband = handbag, not some funky new type of wireless network. Though I might just be getting a few trademark claims in...

Tom Hume

Dave - granny isn't currently served by any terrestrial provider, and resonates on frequencies well beyond GSM. But otherwise w00t yes - completely agree. I think. We are agreeing, right? ;)

Happy new year btw!

james (mjelly)

Tom I am so glad others are noticing this - the whole mobile is for "on the move", "snacking" info and content consumption is completely wrong. I use my mobile around the house as my personal screen hooked up to bloglines, email etc etc - much easier than firing up the PC all the time.

Also I believe some of the mobile TV trails showed that the most popular place for viewing was in the home...

Helen Keegan

Some of the research I've been doing into mobile usage confirms this thinking Tom - and it's not as niche as you might think. There is a growing band of customers for whom mobile is their *only* internet access (yes, even in the UK) and for whom email is non-existent - it's all about social networks and SMS.

@mjelly, yes the mobile TV trials suggest that most usage is at home as a complement to the other screens in the house.

Mobile usage is also addictive. Yes, I know we've heard that before, but studies into smoking addiction suggest that the addiction is as much to do with what you do with your hands as to the nicotine you're inhaling. The comparison with mobile being that it doesn't take long to get 'addicted' to the mobile movement. This holiday season my N95 died on me. I was without a mobile at all for a couple of days (I'm sure I missed absolutely nothing) and since Boxing Day, I've been without mobile internet too (the settings aren't working on my spare mobile for some reason). Despite that, I keep going to my phone to look up something on the mobile internet or play a game on my phone, when I know, logically, that neither is possible. Yet, I still automatically reach for my phone.

Food for thought I guess.

Paul Golding

(Mobile) Surfing at bedtime (i.e. probably in bed) is one of the big peak's in the Google mobile search stats across most regions. Another peak is morning commute time. Different contexts entirely and it is useful that developers begin to cater for this in their designs. In time, with various APIs and more 'user attention' intelligence in the cloud, I expect apps to become context aware and adaptive.

Just like the problematic mobilists' debates about web v native, we should avoid dogmatic positions. Mobiles don't replace laptops. They augment each other and we are seeing new usage habits form. I expect to see more applications generally to become mobile/desktop contextualised - able to work seamlessly and well across both platforms in whatever way seamless makes sense for the application in hand. Some design and development patterns are emerging already.

I don't agree with @mjelly's comment that that 'snacking' is now defunct, especially if the assumption is that we can dispense with mobile task efficiency. We need efficient mobile interfaces, even more so when the set of tasks is complex. Again, search habits show us that whilst the peaks are at times where lengthy mobile engagements are in motion, there is still a huge volume of search traffic in-between that is pithy in nature. The word 'snacking' is perhaps an ideal metaphor. If you're not hungry or don't have time, then take a snack. Otherwise, perhaps settle down for a lengthy meal. The ability to eat more does not make snacking redundant.

Paul Golding

@Helen - New technological possibilities alter habits, but seldom create addictions. However, very often these habits go unnoticed until disrupted. Hence the aptness of the great luminary McLuhan's metaphor that fish don't know of the existence of water until beached. I have been putting up this quote in workshops for years, but mostly as a reminder that we don't know what users want until they have it and can't do without it. It is an old story now, but I can't remember ONE person who confirmed to me that they would want a mobile phone back when we were designing GSM. We see a similar experience with many users of Twitter who go from a 'what's the point?' reaction to an eventual 'can't do without it.' I believe that we shall soon see the same reaction to SecondLife (or other VWs), even though I believe that we shall all succumb in the very near future. It is simply a much more efficient and 'natural' UI for computing. Mobile will follow, or perhaps even lead - many kids are already living in one virtual world or another. And, when you're living in a VR that blends with reality, mobile is the only way to bridge the two.

Paul Golding

Back in 1998, I designed a mobile UI demo (called Zingo) for NTT DoCoMo and Lucent. It was demonstrated at Cannes running on a Toshiba Libretto with Wavelan card and GSM card, pretending to be a '3G phone' (as WCDMA was already in early trials back then in Japan). The UI adapted according to whether the user was in the office/home or 'mobile' and according to time of day etc. For example, mobile email presentation used various filters to show only 'business' emails during certain periods etc. What we didn't really know back then, which we do now, was about the blurring of contexts, such as business/personal and fixed/mobile (i.e. surfing with a mobile in the home). Context was considered the hot topic of the day, such as outlined in this still interesting paper -

There is a useful graph from Peter Vandermeersch (General Editor in Chief De Standaard, Belgium) about the spectrum of digital engagement strategies (for newspapers) that covers all the options according to how much time the user has available, when and why - context of a limited sort. It goes from quick bursty updates via text all the way to in-depth news analysis that would take some time to digest and allows for discussion etc. You can see his slides here -

Different design strategies are required to cover the spectrum. We have to discern the difference between the need for different methods of delivery according to context versus device limitations. No doubt, an iPhone user could access much richer content for longer periods of time, but that doesn't remove the need for contextualised delivery. Not wishing to mistake my own habits as being important, I find that I like to use both the mobile and desktop presentation of Gmail/Twitter/LinkedIn/Facebook on the iPhone according to my own context, not the capabilities of the device.

Now, will this fade out as mobile devices become more 'laptop like' in their UI capabilities, or will developers/users decide that context is actually important enough to create 'context adaptive' applications and UIs as a general design pattern anyway - a kind of 'information filtering and zooming' feature. One has to wonder if our inability to handle increasing amounts of data and noise will hasten context-adaptive design anyway.


Tom, as a user of Orange's 3G service the ability to replace my laptop with a smartphone is little more than a pipe dream. As an owner of an iPod Touch I do at times use that rather than my PC when at home using WiFi.

Looking at my Children's use of Mobile and they are even less likely to use their handsets for access to Facebook et al. They use their laptops and the home WiFi because it is free and they have other things to do and so helps them manage their time.

Looking at my Wife's use of mobile and her use maps that of the children only more so in that she is not a user of the internet for social networking.

Observing outside of my imeadiate family at others and Mobile Data Useage is even less deveoped. The Blue Collar members of my extended family are big on SMS but that is it, they have a desktop computer at home that is used for filesharing and gaming rather than communication these are activities that they are unlikely to undertake on a handset. The White Collar members of this group whilst using Facebook do so in a very limited form so once again getting them to shift screens is unlikely.

Even looking at those who are employed in the Mobile Ecosystem I have to ask just how much they are happy to use a handset rather than laptop? When using the laptop they prefer to use WiFi rather than Mobile Broadband because they are static. Until the Networks can improve the coverage and quality of Mobile Broadband on a rainy day for too many it will be a fall back rather than default setting.

Tom Hume

Not sure I'd agree that snacking is defunct - I find myself doing this in odd moments, just as always (fitting in neatly with Helen's something-to-do-with-my-hands observation). I think what I'm starting to disgree with is the notion that mobile is purely about snacking: I'd completely agree with the value of different content in different contexts, but it feels like usage is beginning to widen beyond these simple categorisations. In this respect I think I'm at odds most with Ian here: whilst I'm sure the majority of folks currently use wi-fi/laptops/desktops for much of their internet use and mobile to "plug the gaps", this is the behaviour I think is starting to change.

I suspect the same thing happened with voice: even when we had mobile, we used landlines because of call cost and quality... but gradually mobile started to take over.

iPhone has completely blurred the wi-fi/3G line for me. I now no longer know or care which I'm using, 95% of the time.

Paul, on VR worlds I'm consistently sceptical. Maybe I'm too old to appreciate what they're about, but outside explicit fantasy (i.e. games or SL-escapism) I don't see much use for them - admittedly that's a pretty vast category of uses to exclude. I write that as a MUDder of old, and as someone who was sceptical last time VRML was The Next Big Thing nearly 10 years ago...

Ronan Cremin

+1 Additionally, when catering for mobile context we should not assume that the user is physically on the move. There are many use cases where the mobile device is becoming the preferred way to access information, even for longer periods, despite not being on the move.

As it happens I blogged about this just before the holiday:


Great post. Really, really, great post. And an even better discussion in the comments. Too bad that there are too many here in the US who loathe this viewpoint, because a computing context that is "yours" can go a long way towards the kind of enablement and change that a lot of people can use these days.

Phil Barrett

Didn't Bill Gates say a number of years ago that he thought that one day there would be a $100 computer that is more powerful than the machines of that day? Sounds like to me that smartphones have become that $100 computer... although that's only $100 with a contract for those of us in North America :)

Matt Edgar

Great post, Tom! I'm not sure this is a new phenomenon. For some years now, I've seen research indicating that "at home" is the single most common place for mobile internet use. Maybe this is telling us that people will use mobile more readily once other more basic Maslowian needs are satisfied. At home, you have ready access to food, the safety of a closed door, relative freedom from interruption, and so on. Out and about, mobile is unrivalled as a communications tool, but that communication itself is constantly assailed by competing tasks, threats and distractions. For each context, what triggers the decision to take a phone in hand, and what forces the user to put it down?

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