Without Voice: The Future of Mobile Web Data Products

Ken Fisher, Ars Technica: Amazon Kindle and Dash point to a future of mobile web products that aren’t phones. Traffic coming from mobile devices is on the rise so we’ll look at some of the issues around that.

What was the single most important design challenge you faced and how did you conquer it in bringing your mobile Internet product to market?

Ken Kershner, Dash Navigation: We wanted to provide information that’s not in a standard GPS going at 65 miles per hour. The car experience is a difficult one. You have divided attention and the device has to be seamlessly integrated into that. We also realized that we’re not going to be able to do everything ourselves that people might want, so we opened it up to third-party developers.

John Koller, Sony: Our big design hurdle was and still is in educating the consumers about the functionality that’s built into the PSP. It’s more than gaming. The desire for mobile web and communication was a huge growth trend that we knew we needed to hop on. With the PSP, we needed to make sure we had a mobile browser that could adapt and that the urban consumer could easily use it on the go. We were surprised that we had the 15-, 16-year-olds rather than the 28-year-old professional, so we had to adapt and launch other applications designed for our audience. We will launch a download service that goes straight to the PSP without having to go to the computer.

Clint McClellan, Qualcomm: A lot of  our challenge is sheer education between medical device companies and carriers, to educate them how medical wireless devices could change the model. (Shows a drug patch.)  Drug therapy is moving towards patches. (Shows a device that is connected to a radio in a patch that could deliver drug information to the doctor via a CDMA network.) We need to learn more about our bodies so we can manage it better.

Fisher: Today you can download content directly to devices and that means we can get away from the PC era. So how do you see the relationship changing between the PC and the way the mobile device model is evolving?

Ian Freed, Amazon: When we started thinking about the Kindle, we debated for a long time: Should we have this completely wireless and not connect it to the PC? So we thought about books and what makes them good. They’re portable and instant on. So we thought about those things and you can’t do that through the PC, so we felt that it was critical to untether the Kindle from the PC. (Shows the Kindle.)

Fisher: How has the relationship with the PC affected the design?

Victor Brilon, Nokia: The PC is the point of reference everyone has. So a challenge of mobile Internet is how to duplicate that space. We still see two Internets — web sites are still optimized for your iPhone, your Nokia phone, but the problem is you’re creating a mobile Internet ghetto. So we wanted to design a phone with the real Internet so we used a real browser, a real Flash player and JavaScript. That’s the experience we’re targeting. So people don’t worry about, is this web site optimized for my device? You just use it.

Fisher: What is the challenge in delivering all that?

Victor, Nokia: Bandwidth, horsepower and memory you can never have enough of. The other thing is the screen is much smaller than the monitor you have at home.

Fisher: How has the device not having phone support helped or hindered the success of the device?

Ken, Dash: The kind of planning tasks for navigating and traffic management are low bandwidth applications. It’s about personalized experiences on the device and supporting what users want to do.

Ian, Kindle: You could put an ear bud in it, but we wanted to build a reading device, so by focusing on that rather than creating a convergence device. We also purposely moved away from a monthly plan for books.

Clint, Qualcomm: Using a MVNO model for a data-only device is better because carriers aren’t ready to service it or carry it.

Fisher: How will we solve the problem of multiple devices, multiple carriers and operators? How can consumers enjoy these products?

John, Sony: What we’ve seen that’s really interesting is there’s a lot less adoption for multiple devices. You have your P2P or a smartphone. Eventually we will have a GPS device launching in the next 6-9 months.

Victor, Nokia: The ultimate answer is convergence. When we have one device that meets all of our needs. I don’t think there’s one device for all people, but there will be one device for each person depending on what they need. The other question is the back-end service. I think it’s becoming very obvious that if you have an Internet service it needs to be open.

Ian, Amazon: There will be converged devices that do a lot of things really well. But we imagine that with Kindle they may be carrying around a cell phone and a camera, and the Kindle replaces the books. As people get more and more comfortable with different devices and know that if they want to take great photographs they want a great camera. So I think it will be a long time before one device has the right form factor and buttons that do all of that.

Nokia: Maybe the idea is not that one device will do everything. But the best camera is the one that’s around when you need it. The idea of convergence is not to replace all these devices but to create a device that is perfect for your needs at that time.

Audience: Will you open the Kindle?

Ian, Amazon: Right now focused on creating an increasingly good consumer experience, but it’s something we think about in the fullness of time, but we’re not doing anything immediately.

Audience: How easy is it for an upstart to get access to carriers?

Ian: It’s hard. We even had trouble when we started thinking about Kindle three or four years ago. I think we have a ways to go before a startup can develop a really interesting platform and launch it on a wireless network without some additional assistance from a larger company.