How the Flintstones looked at the mobile industry

nokia 8110I ran into a great post by Michael Mace regarding differences between European & American phone use. The post is from 2006, so it’s just before Apple came in and turned everything upside down with the iPhone, the Android? The author probably hasn’t heard of it at that time. It is a great lesson of history to read how the author in 2006 perceived the mobile industry, 5 years is a big time period for mobile technologies, especially when we are talking about the period before&after the first iPhone. Some things were the same, some have changed and some were predicted :) The full post is available here. I’m going to cite just the best parts of it.

It’s very dangerous to talk about “Europeans” as if they’re some sort of unified cultural group. Europe is a continent of many nationalities, and each one has a different culture and history. National regulations on phones also differ dramatically within Europe, which has an important impact on mobile use.

Well that hasn’t changed a lot, Americans still think of Europe as a 1 place, although EU is trying to make 1 state, 1 debt, 1 flag etc. It is still very diverse continent.

To me, one of the most pronounced differences between mobile use in the US and Europe is that Europe has a more developed mobile phone culture. [...]and many people look to the mobile as a central source of new innovations. The belief is almost that the mobile phone has a manifest destiny to subsume everything else.  This love affair with the mobile phone is far more common in Europe than it is in America.

Nice, imagine this kind of writing today?In the era of smartphones? And hundreds of Silicon Valley mobile startups? How many startups, services, etc. regarding mobile smartphones are from Europe.?

You can find a good example of this attitude in an essay about the future, on the website of the Club of Amsterdam, a think tank based in the Netherlands:
Every machine will be a mobile phone, talking to their owner but mainly to other machines.... In 2020 the world is one big video screen, one big video camera, one big mobile phone…. The mobile will act as a “trust machine”. It will be our most important lifestyle instrument. It will probably be decomposed with its core elements scattered all over and inside our body.”

Does the function of talking to the owner remind you of some new feature in one o the Apple products? :)

People in the US can be just as enthusiastic about mobilizing technology, but they often think in terms of shrinking and mobilizing the PC and Internet, rather than growing the cellphone. In the US, the cellphone is often viewed as a necessary tool rather than something to love.

Nicely predicting the future again. Indeed Europe has tune-up and used this mobile phones as far as you can before hitting the next level – the smartphone level.

Fashion. To many people in Europe, their mobile phone seems to be a fashion statement. It says something about you, much like your clothing. Americans also care about the look of their phones (just take a look at my daughter’s Razr, covered in stick-on jewels and shiny dangling beady things). But in general I don’t think Americans identify with the phone as deeply.

I don’t buy that today, maybe in the era of mobile phones, but today in the era of smartphones Americans are the ones who tune-up their iPhones with every accessory available on the market. I think Europeans aren’t so passionate about their smartphone casing as Americans, but I can be wrong.

It seems much more common for someone in Europe to change phones than it is for someone in the US. All phones in Europe are GSM, and people generally understand that you can pop out your SIM card and pop it into a new phone anytime you want.

Well, when you travel through different countries you have to do that to avoid high costs.

SMS vs. IM. Speaking of SMS, it’s vastly more popular in Europe than it is in the US. [...] History helps to explain the difference. The US started with a more PC-centric culture, and then IM was pushed aggressively by AOL in the United States, years before many mobile phones here were SMS-capable.

As far as I remember, when I was setting up my first IM(in Europe). I was consulting the details with my friend through a mobile, with SMS. So right again.

In general, the US carriers have more power over their customers than the European operators do, for several reasons. The first is that pay as you go plans are much more popular in Europe than they are in the US.

Now this was maybe not the issue in 2006, but it is a very interesting issue in 2011. The carriers/ operators in US try to sell devices with their own version of Market on Android devices to gain profits, they can do that, because they are very strong in the US and they try to sell as much services to the customer as possible. In Europe they are more like just the guys supplying the customer with a tube for data, it’s up to the customer what will he put through this tube. Recently there has been a discussion regarding mobile ads. They do take a lot of data traffic, and that generates big costs for operators, so they wish to have their fair share in the profits from these ads. This is very interesting and keep your eyes on this matter, it may change the way Internet looks and works.

The second difference is mobile phone number portability (which lets you keep your number if you switch mobile operators). Many countries in Europe had it years before it came into the United States. For example, the UK got portability in 1998, Spain and Sweden in 2000, and Italy in 2001. Americans didn’t get it until the end of 2003.

Well, we have that little thing called EU in Europe, sometimes it does something good.

Mobile versus fixed. Fixed-line phone companies in Europe are often monopolies, legendary for high costs and poor service. I have been told by many friends in Europe that it was faster and cheaper to get a mobile phone there than to wait for a land line, which drove very rapid movement toward mobiles. In the US, land line phone service is generally reliable, quick to install, and cheap, so there’s much less incentive to get away from it. Some younger people in the US are starting to get rid of their land lines, but the movement is much slower than in Europe.

Two world wars explain the fact that we had to build the phone infrastructure 3 times, most of the companies didn’t survive that, so state-sub-sized companies had to do that, and they aren’t cheap as everything else state sub-sized.

In general, Nokia is much better known and respected in Europe. Motorola is much better known and respected in the US (although it doesn’t have the rock star status that Nokia has in Europe). And there are national champions like Siemens, which is heavily respected in Germany but nowhere else I know of. Samsung’s brand awareness has been steadily rising in both the US and Europe, and LG is trying to tail along after it.
The differences over Nokia are the most surprising to my friends in Europe. Throughout Europe, and actually most of the world, Nokia is one of the top elite brands, like Nike in sports or Microsoft in computers. It produces an immediate aura of respectability. In the US, Nokia is lost in the crowd of semi-anonymous Euro-brands — names like Saab or Peugeot that you’ve heard of but have never experienced personally.

Nokia never got to find themselves in the brands of US, before it was too late. It’s amazing to read how Nokia was received 5 years ago. And now look at those names: Nokia, Samsung, LG. One of them is at the bottom. 5 years ago they were a rock star.

After making these few notes on the margin, I realized that this post contains few matters that may strongly influence the future of the mobile industry.

  • The difference between US carriers and EU operators – they may be shaping the future industry, but probably they will do it very differently in their pursuit for higher profits. And we must watch and observe both ways.
  • Prediction of sci-fi technologies, that are in usage 10 years before these sci-fi predictions, things that we are currently dreaming about, may be common in just a couple of years from now – the question is which ones?
  •  Companies can fall from top to the bottom in a very quick period of time, and backwards so who is going to be next? Apple?Google?Facebook?
  •  Costs of wireless internet infrastructure are raising as the amount of data we send and receive goes up, will the carriers be able to finance the infrastructure? Or maybe they’ll want someones help? Governments?Customers? Maybe it is time to reduce the amount of data we transfer, the oil crisis has brought many eco-oil-saving technologies. Maybe it’s time for the firs data-traffic crisis?
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3 thoughts on “How the Flintstones looked at the mobile industry

  1. Pingback: The mighty will fall – Google isn’t innovative in mobile « Bare tech

  2. Pingback: The future of Samsung « Bare tech

  3. Pingback: Is there a limit to our single-use production and consumption? « Bare tech

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