Five Google trends that will revolutionise how we think about mobiles

2010-11-10 00:00

YOU’RE in a restaurant in France. The menu looks delightful, but it’s all in French and you don’t know what to order. So you whip out your mobile, take a photo of the menu and Google Goggles whirs into action, digesting the French text and presenting you with an English version that you can make sense of.

This was just one of the many applications that Robert Hamilton, Google’s mobile product manager, presented while speaking on the future of mobiles in South Africa, in Cape Town on Monday.

During a wide-ranging and stimulating presentation, Hamilton explained how Google looks for long-term trends that it can rely on and use.

He used the example of Gmail, launched in 2004, which changed the game for webmail by offering 2 GB of storage for free. At the time it was unheard of to offer more than 25 MB for free, but Google bet that it would soon be standard.

YouTube launched in 2005 at a time when hardware was expensive, uploading was difficult and there were multiple video players to choose from.

YouTube presented something simple and compelling in its flash-based video player — which then became the standard.

With this in mind, Hamilton presented key trends that Google is tracking in the mobile sphere.

• A mobile phone is a computer in your pocket with the abilities of speech via its speaker, touch and sight via its screen, hearing via a mic and spatial awareness via GPS. That makes it one of the most powerful tools ever created.

• The prices of these devices are falling all the time and it won’t be long before this level of sophistication is available to everyone, along with unprecedented levels of connectivity.

• The concept of cloud computing has had a profound impact on the mobile world, enabling phones to run sophisticated applications that would previously have required too much processing power to execute. (Just ask the guys at MXit, the country’s largest social network that is mainly phone based.)

• Voice is going to become more dominant on the mobile phone. Google’s Voice Search application lets you say your Google search queries and hear the results returned. This trend will continue to grow. You will be able to speak one language into your phone, and then push a button which will translate what you have said into another language, or you can use your voice to enter in an SMS and watch as the phone translates it into text ready to be sent.

• The browser will beat applications because it is an open standard. Hamilton was ambivalent about the surge in applications, arguing that in years to come it is likely that the browser will fulfil all the functions that applications currently do. He reminded us that open standards always win in the long term. Developing for the browser is uniform across Android, iOS, Symbian, Rim and many other platforms. This is a gigantic blessing for developers as you need to code only once, and it does not require any development kit or licensing fees.

The browser also lets you experiment quickly and easily. There are no updates that need to be installed because it is all online. Moreover, no approvals are needed from the “gatekeepers” of the application stores.

Google’s trends and ideas are all grounded in finding solutions to real-life problems that affect ordinary people.

At the end of the day, Google sees the mobile device as being able to deliver so much more than just search results. Your phone should be able to deliver a map when you are lost, or a crucial phone number when you need it. At that point, the mobile phone will really be delivering on all the promise that it holds.


Jeremy Daniel

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