January 22, 2011

Trends to Track - Mobile

I know that I am not the first one to say so but the fact remains that the future of the world wide web is -- literally -- in your hands. In your mobile handset that is ! And the faster you get  your hands wrapped around this new technology the better for you. But why this sudden realisation on my part ? Let me backtrack a little bit.

Many years ago, I had the opportunity to design a computer network for a client and we were agonising about the amount of bandwidth that we should provision for. Since bandwidth was an expensive commodity in those days -- a 64Kbps internet access was available from VSNL for about Rs 12+ lakhs / year -- we were being very conservative with our requirements but a senior colleague gave me a warning that I have never forgotten : Never estimate the size of a bridge by counting the number of people swimming across the river ! His message was that once you start using a technology you will realise how much more you can with it and your requirements  and expectations will explode.

Cut to the early days of the laptop, say 1994 when I first saw a Rs 5 lakh DOS laptop and wondered why on earth will someone pay that kind of money for what could effectively be done with  desktop machine ( which was then retailing for something close to a lakh ). Thankfully my employer, in its wisdom, decided that we engineers on the field would be better off with laptops and it goes without saying that ever since then I have never ever used anything other than a laptop -- even when it comes to the machine that my family uses at home. The convenience of using a laptop is now a self evident truth -- there is no point in elaborating that any further -- but this paves the way for the next leg of my argument today : the move to the mobile.

I am not one of those who have to be first to use any new gadget but nevertheless I have been using a mobile since 1997 (when Modi Telstra introduced the service in Calcutta and talk time was about Rs 10/minute, even for incoming calls)  but till about last year I used it only for voice calls and SMS. Though my Airtel connection ( a direct descendant of the Modi Telstra service) offered an expensive and flaky GPRS connection I was loath to use it because it was so unreliable but my Sony Erickson handset had an automatic image-to-Blogger upload facility that I found irresistible. But that was it -- I would shoot pictures and push them into my blog but this too stopped once my handset crashed and was replaced by my current Samsung 3310 -- which did not have this facility.

But the world has a way of creeping up on you and there is no army that can stop an idea whose time has come ! I realised the joys (and actually the ease ) of sending my Tweets through SMS and discovered that a stripped down, no frills version of Facebook could be accessed free of cost and then I was on. The experience was however not without some pain. Having become used to broadband speeds, the raw GPRS connection was rude reminder of the early days of BSNL dialup internet (only the whine of the modem was missing !) This was frustrating -- until one of Facebook friends told me about Snaptu -- the free mobile app that really makes it easy to access a large number of interesting sites even on the slow and unreliable GPRS service that Airtel offers in the backwaters of Kharagpur. That is when I realised it : the app is the key !

I do not have an iPhone ( and will probably never have one, given my aversion to proprietary, expensive and snobbish products) and am still waiting for good Android phones to break through the 10K barrier so while I read about apps and appstores I have not had the chance to use their apps but I am now convinced that mobile apps are the way to go even if you do not have 3G in your area.

A well designed mobile app like Snaptu can make a world of difference to your mobile experience as I have now realised after installing and using the apps for Google Maps, GMail and now SBI mobile banking. Doing all this is possible with your mobile browser ( and Opera is the best mobile browser at the moment ) but having a custom designed app makes it far more convenient. I have been using Internet banking for many years now but now I am all charged up to go mobile with a vengeance. Even though I know GPRS will cost me money while the broadband at home and work is paid for by my employer ( and indirectly by the Indian tax payer, may his tribe increase ) I am still fiddling with my mobile apps because I know that that is where the the future lies -- and unless I am at home with this technology I run the risk of falling behind the curve of what is going to be the most interesting feature of the technical landscape of the future.

I have heard eminent people say that if one compares the growth rates of mobile and broadband penetration then it is a matter of time before the mobile will be the dominant and preferred mode for accessing the inexhaustible resources available on the web. So the need of the hour is to get mobile internet now ! Even if you do not have 3G, even if you do not have Android and you are stuck, like me, with a non-smart phone and a simple GPRS connection -- look around for a few smart apps, download them and get going. If possible today !

Happy Mobile browsing


Madhumalti Sharma said...

I completely agree that the apps make a huge difference. I have 3G (luckily) and multiple applications to choose from to do even a simple thing like access FB. My brother (a gadget freak and know-all) recommended snaptu to me about a year ago...it was def. better than the default application on my nokia e72.

I also like your comment on anti- ipad or apple products for the reasons cited! The world can be easily divided into 2 halves based on this aspect!

Calcutta said...

Thanks MMS for your perspectives on mobile