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Is The Future Mobile In 2008?

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Nic Newman | 10:42 UK time, Friday, 11 January 2008

the_future_is_mobile.pngPeople have been predicting that mobile will be the next big thing for years, but finally some of the pieces seems to be falling into place. Devices like the iPhone are simplifying the consumer experience and creating real excitement; phone networks are offering all-you-can-eat tariffs; and content is being produced in ways that make it easy to reformat for small, medium and large mobile screens.

Meanwhile, at the Consumer electronics show (CES) in Las Vegas this week, there have been a host of new innovations in mobile, WiFi and handheld.

Back in London this week, we brought together some of the key players in the mobile industry - including Nokia, Vodafone, Apple, Microsoft, Yahoo and Blyk - for an event called The Future Is Mobile to share roadmaps and plans.


And it was a fascinating day. I learned that there were over 800 devices in regular use and 3.5bn phones in existence. I learned that 90% of mobile phones can access the internet but most people don't because they don't know that mobile web services exist, or they are too frightened to use them because of complexity and cost.

pete_clifton_mobiles.jpgBut the key learning for me was that operators, handset manufactures, software providers and content providers are now all pulling in the same direction. Pretty much everyone agrees that the mobile web is going to take off over the next two years and is committed to make it happen.

And there were a few areas where we couldn't agree... in fact, we had some polarised views. And this is where I am hoping you can help. Here are four questions we really struggled with.

  • Do we need to produce different content for mobile - or is it just the same stuff reformatted for your device? Do you want stories to be shorter on a mobile or the same as the web?
  • Are you interested in different stories on the move - or would you want BBC News or Sport to be consistent across our different outlets?
  • What about audio and video? More and more phones are capable of playing this. Is this important to you on a handheld or a distraction? Does your answer change if you don't have to pay?
  • Would you ever watch live TV on a mobile or handheld?

We'd love your thoughts. Please do comment here.

Nic Newman is Controller, Journalism, BBC Future Media and Technology.


  1. At 06:48 PM on 11 Jan 2008, James wrote:

    Content should be the same wherever it's accessed (or at least all the content should be available, even if there's a summary to click through for 'lite' devices)

    I'm profoundly ambivalent about audio & video - mainly because I don't use headphones with my phone, so I'd be sharing with those around me, and partly because I don't know how big the files are and hence how much of my 1Gpcm I'm going to be using by watching it! The single most helpful thing you could do to encourage me to use A/V on my phone is be clear about the size in bytes - not because I care about how long it'll take to download (I assume it'll be fast enough these days) but because I want to know how much it'll cost me.

    I might watch live TV, but only if it was epoch defining (had I had the capability, 9/11 would have had me reaching for my phone) otherwise, I'm more likely to go home and watch it on a rather larger screen. Of course, once I have the combination of screen size and bandwidth to watch SD tv on my phone it'll be a different question (especially if it has a projector in it too!)


  2. At 12:26 AM on 12 Jan 2008, Allan wrote:

    I think mobile web is really handy, cost is a drawback if you pay per amount of data sent / recieved so free wifi to phones and PDAs makes it very attractive and should easily enable video and audio streaming. On a PDA or phone a video stream of News 24 or another channel would be very handy and nodoubt somethign people would use regularly when on the move especially due to all of the wi-fi hotspots available nowadays.

  3. At 12:56 PM on 12 Jan 2008, Keith M wrote:

    I'm finding I use mobile internet more and more but access time is slow as I use standard gsm/gprs wap to get news etc. I like consistency across platforms, avoid video (but will look if important enough to me)due to question of time & file size, and hate any inclusion of stock photos rather than those that add true value to the story. Headlines that give a clue to the story rather than grab attention are vital as are getting the basics into the first page(std online news article often becomes 3 pages in wap.

    Sure I look forward to the days of fast, cheap internet and affordable mobile devices but find it is still cheaper, lighter (and more importantly easier) to use an A5 size diary, paper notebook and mobile phone than a PDA.

    An A5 tablet is my dream, pref with wifi, bluetooth & phone capable, but till prices more than half a dream it shall remain.

  4. At 03:07 AM on 13 Jan 2008, Xbehave wrote:

    consider moving your streaming formats away from wmv or realtime. and to mp3 and ogg (ogg giving great size/quality ration when using a properly setup system, and mp3 having good hardware support for embedded)

    I think your biggest market for such media are commuters, so perhaps you could hassle tfl into offering wifi on the tube. ive seen quite a people using an EEE on the tube this year.
    p.s Ive been thinking about this for a while but tfl arnt as friendly to feedback as you guys so maybe you could hassle them?

    Offering news in podcast would be also be a good idea as users could still listen to the program while not in range of a hotspot! (this would be ideal for programs like newsbeat on radio1 and similar alternatives)
    #this dosent seam to be posting so apologies if you get it twice

  5. At 01:39 PM on 14 Jan 2008, Dave wrote:

    The hardware and infrastructure is already there. Distributors just need to use more open formats. People have iPhones and smartphones capable of playing video and browsing the web and almost PC resolution. Why limit what people can do on their device?

    I agree with James: "Content should be the same wherever it's accessed".

    On another note, when will the BBC iPlayer be opened up to support Nokia smartphones? It's great you've added a Flash streaming version, but why stop Flash-capable devices from viewing it. (I'm talking about the Nokia N95 and E90 devices)


  6. At 03:33 PM on 14 Jan 2008, Jeremy wrote:

    As I write this I see that you have had 5 comments only. This seems to me to indicate that there is not massive interest in web content on mobile phones. I can imagine that being able to access google or similar sites might be useful but I suspect the killer app for mobiles would be access to GPS mapping at a reasonable price.

  7. At 04:49 PM on 14 Jan 2008, Mark Ford wrote:

    I have tried to use mobile internet ever since my first handset was capable of doing so a couple of years ago. Since then I have upgraded to the new generation of Nokia which has a far more familiar internet browser capable of displaying actual web pages instead of abbreviated 'mobile' versions. However, unless you're connected to a good strength WiFi connection it obviously takes an age to load this content over the usual mobile network alternative.

    Despite the obvious teething problems the medium still has in delivering 'real' web pages; I'd still rather view the 'full content' of a site rather than the abbreviated '.mob' versions many sites provide. With better internet coverage around the corner I think mobile providers should aim to bring the internet to my phone instead of altering the content into one long tapestry of words and pictures that feels much less like the pages I'm familiar with.

    I've also tried watching TV on my mobile via the 3 network and subscribed for a couple of months to their mobile TV plan. But I have to admit I was totally unimpressed. Most stations barely resembled their usual TV counterparts due to the insignificant programs they had allowed to be licensed for the purpose. And trying to stream video and sound in sync appeared virtually impossible. I think the structure and demand is obviously in place but providers need to produce a means to fully provide what they promising instead of making do with the current situation of poor signal strength and coverage.

  8. At 10:05 PM on 14 Jan 2008, Peter North wrote:

    I always hope to be able to find the same content on the move as I can find on my computer. Yes I may want the method for getting to that content to be tailored for my device (scrolling miles across a much smaller screen can be tiresome), but once there I want to know that it is consistent and so authoritative.
    Typically at the moment when I am accessing information on my device I am not interested in video or audio, and for news sites this is generally consistent with my browsing habits when at a desk. However I think this is largely due to the accessibility of the content and it's current quality, especially when viewed from abroad. As such the cost of of accessing such media is a consideration, so I agree with comments around useful file size information.
    As for live TV, if the content is of quality and the experience reliable then it can certainly be a benefit. Certainly whilst traveling access to a more rich content would be even more satisfying, particularly when access to normal media may be limited.

  9. At 10:00 AM on 15 Jan 2008, Jamie Gray wrote:

    Content should be mirrored across all platforms, be it mobile, online or digital tv.

    For example, the standard mobile site has far more content than the PDA version (and in some cases is far easier to navigate, try getting to the Tayside/Central section in Scottish news on both. the mobile is far more intuative).

    A bit more difficult to organise would be internal links, If there is a link in a story I've found it links to the standard desktop site, which isn't ideal when your using a mobile.

    Online and video clips are handy to have and I think they would provide better value than live TV, an expansion of the iPlayer concept to mobile could work very well, especially if you add the news multiscreen loops from digital tv. Since live news is available via news 24 on desktop compuetrs now I can't see myself being away from a PC long enough to need it on my mobile too.

    While I think the BBC mobile offerings are some of the best there is, I'd love to see the PDA site expanded.

  10. At 11:34 AM on 15 Jan 2008, Peter J Halford wrote:

    I agree with everyone else, that content should be the same across all platforms, and i would prefer to have more downward scrolling than having to click next page all the time, as mobile pages aren't the fastest to load. The complexity of pricing from mobile firms, has lead me to totally ignore any kind of video downloading, so until there is a national wifi network i wont be using my mobile for videos, i can come home use my own fast Internet if i really need to.

  11. At 12:16 PM on 15 Jan 2008, David Lenihan wrote:

    To answer your Questions I would like the stories to be consistent across the various platforms web mobile PDA I fear further editing would reduce may reduce the quality by removing context. Reformatting perhaps longer summaries before deciding to view the full text is important scrolling on my mobile is less than perfect. Audio & Video would be nice but not essential and cost as well as download time and quality would be factors in this. For me mobile internet is more about the essentials i.e. motor sport and football results and reports. One difficulty I have with multimedia content on my phone is that I would like to use my own earphones with my mobile rather than the uncomfortable ones supplied with my phone.

  12. At 12:36 PM on 15 Jan 2008, Jo wrote:

    When I access the web on my mobile, I want the real web, not a mobile version. So no change in content, although device appropriate CSS would be welcome.

    As far as audio, video & TV goes, I'm agnostic. I haven't seen something that would make me use them on my mobile but there may well be one out there.

  13. At 06:47 PM on 15 Jan 2008, Alexander Fairfax wrote:

    I feel that mobile movers and shakers should pay more heed to the difference in format between a mobile phone and a desktop computer.

    Have you ever tried searching Google whilst trying to cross the street?

    It's dangerous!

    TV? I already have one, thank you. It measures 42" and sits opposite a large, comfy sofa not far from the fridge.

    Intuition, speed and as little time spent browsing as possible are intrinsic demands to the mobile channel.

    Bring on the relevant content, the immaculately targeted ads and a touch of consumer insight for '08.

  14. At 01:54 PM on 17 Jan 2008, Ben Don wrote:

    I would like to feel that I am not missing anything when accessing the web via my phone. Often sites which automatically redirect me to a seperate site when using my mobile leave me wondering what else I may not have access to. I want to make that choice myself. If the beeb desktop site has audio and video I would like to have the same for my mobile. OK, this may simply not work on some devices but technology providers are changing and making multimedia plugins that work for ubiquitous devices (Adobe Flash, Real Player etc). In the same way that text can be converted to a relevant format as required plugins should enable multimedia content to be viewed/listened to in varying ways.

    Oh yes, and TV? I also already have one, thank you. It measures 32" and sits opposite a large, comfy sofa not far from the fridge. However, I spend far more time away from that TV than with it. I don't want to have to replay my programmes later when I can get to that sofa. Why can't I watch them now?

  15. At 01:41 PM on 21 Jan 2008, Adrian Fisher wrote:

    As someone with an iPhone and a massive fan of the iPhone podcast page that radiolabs brought out, I'd love to see more of that sort of thing from the BBC.

    From what I can see the BBC hasn't created an iPhone version of the news/sports pages yet, which would be great to see. This would, of course, include being able to see/stream all the video clips that these pages have to offer.

    You should take a look at the iPhone version of Facebook for layout clues, with an option of going to the normal web version of the site if people want it.

    While I understand that the iPhone isn't the only mobile device out there, I do think you should work towards giving each mobile device owner the best possible experience you can.

    As for your questions;

    Do we need to produce different content for mobile - or is it just the same stuff reformatted for your device?

    Should be the same I think, although perhaps the order should be mixed up a bit to take into account that the person is away from home. Things like travel news etc would get a higher listing?

    Do you want stories to be shorter on a mobile or the same as the web?

    I would say that depends on the device. I would want the full story on my iPhone.

    Are you interested in different stories on the move - or would you want BBC News or Sport to be consistent across our different outlets?

    See first answer

    What about audio and video? More and more phones are capable of playing this. Is this important to you on a handheld or a distraction? Does your answer change if you don’t have to pay?

    Yes to having it ..... No to paying! (of course :p )

    Would you ever watch live TV on a mobile or handheld?

    Yes I would! Very handy on the train :)

  16. At 10:26 AM on 18 Feb 2008, Katie Streten wrote:

    I think content should cover the same topics but in ways appropriate to the medium. To steal a maxim from advertising "The medium is the message" Phones are an anytime, anywhere medium, small screen - therefore they are perfect for update content (eg rugby scores or weather or news headlines) they are not good for long form content eg watching a whole programme or a film - on a purely practical note your eyes get tired!
    Context of phone use is different to home tv use, iTV use or internet use so the content has to be differently constructed eg headlines and short form text vs in depth analysis. What is more exciting is what can be done *only* on a mobile? Giving thought to this could bring some new possibilities for content developers to take mobile beyond televisual or internet experiences.

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