Mobile smartphones and tablets have been on a meteoric rise since the iPhone initially shipped in 2007. However, there are conflicting trends that could stagnate growth in the U.S., if they are not adequately addressed in a user-centered way.

Carriers & Manufacturers Are Out of Sync Regarding Data Plans

‘I don’t give a f*&% how thin your phone is, I want unlimited data…’
Gambling genie

“Gambling genie” by Lisa Brewster

When Horace Dediu kicked off mobilism 2012, he presented an impressive animated chart that illustrated the ascension of the iPhone relative to its competitors. People generally attribute this rapid success to the genius of the iPhone hardware feature set. However, one of the main “features” that secured its success, in my opinion, was that it originally shipped with a single unlimited data plan via AT&T. People were fed up with being nickled and dimed with fees for internet access, email, downloading music, transferring photos, backing up contacts etc. The content-liberated iPhone hardware, plus the simple unlimited data plan, sealed the deal for many and justified the relatively high cost.

Ever since the iPhone took off and tablets got into the game, AT&T (and eventually the other major carriers) have been trying to stuff that unlimited-data-Genie back in the bottle. With tiered data plans, shared data buckets, throttling and other tactics, the redefined “unlimited” is a shadow of it’s brash 2007 incarnation. I could be argued that the iPhone was a better value in its first year than it is today.

That’s a huge problem, because unlimited data was the killer app! Ironically, the early iPhones didn’t have the native apps and system features that make it the bandwidth glutton it is today. With the forthcoming release of iOS 6, Apple has essentially created a mobile OS that craves constant access to a data plan (or Wifi). Android, Windows Mobile, and the rest of the gang have developed similar appetites.

To consumers, it feels as though U.S. carriers want to revert back to nickel and diming, while the mobile device manufacturers aim to sell gadgets that are designed for a yet-to-exist utopia of ubiquitous, fast, cheap, and unlimited data access. These two divergent motivations are set to collide with unfortunate results for U.S. mobile market. If carriers and manufacturers don’t start working in concert, I think that it will eventually stall consumer interest and constrain innovation. I think it’s up to hardware manufacturers to stop simply refining their hardware and OSes, and collaborate with carriers to improve the hardware-plus-service combination. It’s the data plan stupid, figure out how to make it happen!

The spec might be dead, but onboard storage still matters

Keeping the base model storage of “The New iPad” at 16GB was an insult #IMO. The retina-fication of computing devices is requiring native apps and websites to more than double the file size of their image assets. Despite this newly mandated bloat, Apple didn’t see fit to at least double its onboard storage lineup? Really? The same could be said for the iPhone as well.

Cloud storage is supposed to offset this ‘challenge’, but it simply doesn’t – yet. Considering the data plan issues mentioned above, the full promise of mobile cloud storage is still on the horizon. In addition, native apps must be installed on the device (not the cloud) and they are ballooning in file size with every update. Therefore, it will still be some time before onboard storage is NOT a major consideration in usability. The next crop of smartphones and tablets must ship with a major storage bump to their base models, or the negative impact on users is going to shift from insulting to untenable.

Greater Harmony between Product & Service will mark the next chapter in mobile

The next major leap forward in mobile will be a product that finally brings the Carrier service portion in line with overall UX of the device. Whether this is done via better collaboration between multiple players, or a device manufacturer making a bold move into directly providing call/text/data plans, I’m not sure. It’s time to innovate, not monetize via artificially restrictive products and services. The growth of the mobile platform in the U.S. will stagnate if all involved keep trying to make their last desperate money grabs from consumers.

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