Monday, April 03, 2006

Towards the iPoK epoch

Last week I was commenting on the spate of mergers and acqisitions in Internet related companies, linking it in part to the convergence of technology and the excitement of moves towards "triple play" - that is the unification of (broadband) Internet, TV and telephone systems. But there was an angle that I missed really - the continuing trend towards mobile wireless platforms.

I'm not suggesting that people won't want big screen viewing of movies, sports and other TV programmes in their living rooms. Far from it - but there is a definite move towards on the move digital facilities, linked to cell/mobile phones.

Already we have seen the huge success of the iPod and Apple's iTunes online store, which recently sold its billionth song less than three years after being set up. And now "Crazy" by Gnarls Barkley has raced to the top of the UK singles chart, becoming the UK's first number one single based on download sales alone.

Maybe the attractiveness of the iPod design means that people will prefer to retain a separate device for listening to music, but mobile phone companies are hoping that they will be just as happy to download sounds to their cell phones. Given the phenomenal success of downloadable ringtones, who would bet against it?

Already you can take photographs with your mobile. You can add to that basic Internet connections, texting and of course telephone calls, making it a multi-functional device.

A recent story in the Financial Times reported that Virgin Mobile and BT are in talks to launch a mobile TV and radio service via the cell phone. The BT Movio project has already been successfully trialled and a spokesperson said that the results were "extremely positive" and demonstrated a "clear consumer demand for broadcast digital TV and radio to mobile phones". Virgin Mobile is currently the acquisition target of NTL but a takeover would not in any way delay the introduction of the Movio service, which is based upon the Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB) network to deliver sound and pictures to mobile phones.

And three more stories about mobile phone developments caught my eye last month. First I read that already in Asia mobile phones are used as mini scanners. Once a phone has an inbuilt digital camera it is relatively easy to add in scanning functions. Then I read that PayPal is preparing to launch a cell phone payments system, allowing customers to make purchases or money transfers using simple text messaging facilities on their mobiles. Customers of the PayPal Mobile system would complete the transaction by entering their pin to give confirmation when PayPal calls them back. Lastly I read that RealNetworks regards the cell phone as an important platform in the future for online games. Adding the ability to talk to other players would significantly enhance the reality of games, particularly team games.

So there you have it. There is clearly scope for increasing the functionality of the mobile phone, turning it into what I have called an iPoK - short for "in your pocket"! I hope nobody has got a trademark on this name, which I have based on Apple's iPod and Hewlett-Packard's IPAQ. I did do a quick Google search to see if I could find this name being used anywhere and was delighted to find that I couldn't - apart from on a website discussing the supernatural beliefs of the Melanau people for whom the "ipok" are the most powerful of all beings, in control of all the world's happenings. A suitable name, I thought, for a handheld device that would give you TV, music and online games, as well as telephone calls, texting and e-mail, other Internet connections, online banking, digital photographs, scanning, and who knows what else.


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