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Last Updated: Friday, 25 February 2005, 17:24 GMT
3GSM reveals real role of mobiles

By Stephen Cole
Presenter, BBC Click Online

Mobile phones are the essential accessory most of us never leave home without. At 3GSM, Europe's premier mobile phone show, Stephen Cole assesses the real role they play in our lives, and the problems users face.

New mobile device at 3GSM
Is this something you would not leave the house without?
What exactly do mobile phones mean to us in this day and age?

The short answer, it seems, is more than ever.

The relationship with mobiles is changing all the time, according to researcher Michael Hulme.

"If we go back five years, it used to be fairly functional.

"Today we're moving towards a real time of dependency, where if we lose our mobile we begin to feel cut off from our network of friends, cut off from our contacts, and absolutely disabled.

"The other thing is that the mobile is very much a device of control. We are using it to control our relationships with others, how others contact us, and increasingly to control information.


Moreover, as new entertainment and services work their way onto our phone, it is becoming a tool which we use simply to get away from it all.

They want to be somewhere else - and playing a game is a jolly good place to be
Michael Hulme
Michael Hulme says part of the reason why the mobile is so successful is that it takes us away from where we are.

"It reconnects us with another space, be that a friend that we want to talk to, or actually the opportunity to reconnect with a games space that takes us out of where we are.

"Hence the reason that in Asia you see people in queues playing games.

"They don't want to be in the queue, they want to be somewhere else - and playing a game is a jolly good place to be."

Reaching out

Mobile gaming is, of course, always likely to appeal to some more than others.

Teenagers, in particular under 15s, are most likely to experiment with new services.

As Michael Hulme says, this is the group that has grown up with computers from a very early age.

"They see devices as tools to bring data towards them.

"That can be very simple things like ring tones, icons etc.

"But increasingly I think we are going to see this group looking at the devices and means to reach out to the world and pull the world towards them and to re-order and re-structure it actually on the phone."


But do today's mobile services actually work?

A clue to that question is that there is now a big business in solving people's mobile phone problems.

David Ffoulkes-Jones runs Wireless Data Services (WDS), a company that supplies technical support for most of the major mobile operators.

Display at 3GSM
30,000 people are expected at the 3GSM mobile phone show in Cannes
He feels major companies have not always thought through the services they are offering, but they are now getting much more involved in servicing and support of the end user.

"They see that as one of the major threats to their take-up of innovation in the market space", he says.

WDS saw the launch of 42 new products into the market in December of last year. With all the new applications that come along with those devices as they hit the market, consumers get confused.

Therefore, he says, companies are now having to focus in on the whole "out-of-box user experience", so users can engage in these new applications.

Challenges ahead

But with many applications being very complicated, or even downright unnecessary, often it is not simply a question of engaging, and more a question of being able to use them at all.

Not all users are entirely happy with what they have got
David Ffoulkes-Jones says this is part of the challenge when you innovate as quickly as the industry has.

"You get caught up in technology, as opposed to usability and looking at the consumer and what they would actually want to use. You tend to think: 'this is a groovy piece of technology that makes us more interesting'."

However groovy the technology may be, in a mobile market place of somewhere over one billion subscribers, WDS services about 40,000 calls a month.

This suggests that not all users are entirely happy with what they have got.

David Ffoulkes-Jones says: "There are some real challenges in the market place that we find today."

And the operators are still not getting it right, which is why places like DWS have a business.

In order to get it right, David Ffoulkes-Jones believes "they need to work closer together than they currently are and we need to front up to some of the challenges that we face today".

Click Online is broadcast on BBC News 24: Saturday at 2030, Sunday at 0430 and 1630, and on Monday at 0030. It can be watched on the website from late Friday afternoon. A short version is also shown on BBC Two and BBC News 24 as part of BBC Breakfast: Saturday at 0645. Also BBC World.

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