The Year the Mobile Telephone Lost its Way
As we look back on a momentous 2011 it will be remembered for many transformational events and well down on in this list will be the tipping point when the old mobile telephone industry lost its mobile leadership crown to the IT industry.
The headlines over 2011 map out the big events as the mighty Nokia stumbles… blind sided by the rise of Apple. Google takes over the venerable father of the mobile hand portable…Motorola’s mobile phone division. Android trumps Nokia’s Operating System Symbian. Mobile Network Operators start to lose the battle for loyalty in the home as their customers connect their Smartphones to WiFi for down-loading data. The mobile messaging space gets taken over by the Internet staples of E-Mail, Instant Messaging, Facebook and Twitter…leaving it open to question just how much longer SMS will last…at least in Western markets.
This would not be any cause for concern if this transformation of the industry was synonymous with everything getting better. But is this the case? What has most concerned me as a consumer (aside from the complexity of it all) is how the telephone function is getting marginalised in the design of the new smartphones. I suspect it is cultural and that the folk who are now designing mobile smartphones are computer and not radio engineers. How else is it possible to explain how the Apple gaff happened – where a consumer holding their mobile in a certain way killed the aerial performance. But don’t imagine that the other new age mobile manufacturers are doing a whole lot better. HTC for example are well recognised as a smartphone design leader…but the one I purchased in 2011…whilst outstanding for games…was a very poorly performing telephone. I had to hold the mobile horizontally to get the mobile phone to receive enough signal where I live…fine if I was making telephone calls lying on my back.
Another step back is the lack of standardisation of how to use a mobile telephone on a smartphone. Perhaps I am a slow learner but I now budget losing the first few incoming calls due to the learning time needed to work out how to receive a call on a new Smartphone from a different supplier (I am now on my fourth smartphone). My worst experience was with a Nokia smartphone where I lost count of the number of incoming calls aborted…the problem being that as I reached into my pocket to pull out the mobile I incidentally touched the screen in the wrong place. No doubt patent disputes may be the source of all these innovative ways to confuse the consumer for something so basic…One might also ask whatever happened to fair licensing terms for Intellectual Property as Court injunctions flying around seem to be a feature of this new mobile world order?
The next great leap backwards for the mobile telephone is battery drain. My first mobile phone was a Technophone M1 in 1986 that promised 8 hours of standby time. There followed the great leap forward to the norm of some 300 hours of standby time by 2006. Since the arrival of the smartphone we have had the great leap backwards and it is no exaggeration to mention 8 hours again for those watching all that video on great smartphone screens…one of the various ways smartphones gobble up battery energy…leaving nothing in reserve for the telephone. One of my sons has the latest Apple Smartphone and must lose his share of incoming telephone calls as he switches off his mobile to conserve what little he has left of his mobile battery energy by the end of the working (or playing) day.
We can be optimistic that technology advance will gradually claw back the standby time losses. We need to be less optimistic that the mobile radio performance will be improving any time soon. All the warning lights are flashing that mobile antenna performance is set to get a whole lot worse as the manufactures make more and more compromises to pack-in more and more antennas into tomorrow’s mobile phones (to embrace all the new frequency spectrum coming on stream).
Now here is an amazing fact…there is not one single mobile phone on the market today that has any data in the pages of specification marketing claims that says how well their smartphone performs… as a telephone…not even the receiver sensitivity gets a mention. This is where the fight-back to get a decently performing telephone functions on tomorrow’s smartphones needs to begin…good consumer information.
Perhaps the regulators need to nudge the mobile phone industry to publish data relevant to telephone performance such as receiver sensitivity. It would be a great spur to innovation and good design if manufacturers were also required to publish the best and worse antenna gain for each band. Even better would be for the industry to agree some simple common figure of merit to reflect overall telephone performance…a navigational beacon for the humble mobile telephone function that is currently losing its way as progress is now driven by the new IT masters of the mobile universe…