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The beginning of the end of feature phones and what it means for libraries

Here’s my Boo! posting for Halloween.  Some stuff is real and it’s scary – hopefully in that scary movie, roller coaster kind of way.

Are we ready to see the end of feature phones (what they’re calling non-smartphones now)?

I’ve been thinking about this for a while.  I think we’re about to see an extreme decline in the production of feature phones or flip phones or just those ordinary mobile phones we’ve been using for years.

I see this pattern emerging.

Sony: We’re phasing out feature phones

“Sony has revealed that it is to phase out feature phones and concentrate on smartphones in the future. The Japanese giant has very recently announced its acquisition of the Ericsson part of Sony Ericsson, and with the buy out, effect more change than a simple rebranding exercise.”

So, Sony is buying out Ericsson’s share of Sony Ericsson and adopting a strategy that is basically a smartphone focus.

Remember that Microsoft bought Skype? They’re also pushing their Windows Mobile system for phones to everyone and have started shipping phones to developers.

Also, Google bought Motorola and is busy integrating that into their strategies but they do own the big smartphone operating system  . . . Android.

And there’s still the shark in the tank, Apple, with their iPhone and iOS and App Store, etc.  They’ve recently been overtaken by Android phones but the battles aren’t over and the war isn’t won.

There’s more but that seems enough to make the point.  It’s a big war since it’s really about who is going to dominate the commercial space in a mobile world.  I think smartphones are emerging as the clear winner and it’s still up in the air as to whether that’s going to be Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft, Google or RIM.  They’ve all got loads of cash to play in the development.  Add tablets into the mix and you’ve got a major play for the future.  We have competing operating systems, devices, form factors, apps and app stores, partnerships, patents, and more in this new and emerging ecosystem.

As we already saw when the Internet went commerical in the 90’s, the consumer space can drive a lot of what happens in academia, k-12 education, research and public libraries. So what’s happening in mobile commercially now . . .

What this have to do with libraries? A lot!

First, we have to take into account that much (most?) of our content is going virtual in many ways.  We have:

1. Websites that need to be mobile ready and successful.

2. Books that are becoming e-books and working with e-readers, mobile phones and tablets in addition to computers.   Audiobooks too.

3. Serials collections that are now almost completely digital article vaults.

4. Learning experiences that are now delivered through learning management systems like Blackboard, D2L, Sakai, Moodle and more.

5. Music has basically gone to the song level as MP3’s and physical media plays an increasingly smaller role. Radio too.

6. The same thing is happening quickly to DVD’s as streaming media covers video.

7. Gaming? Nuff said – just look at the most popular games like Angry Birds, Farmville, and more and you can see they’re often mobile first.

8. Social sites like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter are all diving into mobile readiness big time.

So, we can’t miss the pattern.  The world of content is increasingly going virtual.

Now, what’s the commercial aspect?  Virtually all of the major content in libraries will be capable of being acquired or purchased in or through a mobile device like a smartphone.

One hopes that assistance and support of librarian lead initiatives will be there too. What will our portals and services look like in a mobile world?

Consider the following debates:

1. What is the point of in-app purchasing rules in the various app stores?  It’s a big deal who controls the sale. So, as 11,000 libraries open in OPAC purchasing to Amazon . . .

2. Follow the discussions about royalties and fees for books and magazines in app stores and you can see a new model and virtual retail environment emerging.  Demands for higher than retail fees to make it into the Appstores and retailers are changing the power structure.

3. Follow closely the world of QR codes and embedded location aware services in mobile devices.  This is a foundation for commercialization of local retail.

4. Study the role of Amazon and Kindle books embedded in library OPACs and websites via OverDrive.  This is a Trojan horse to  access the cream of the crop of readers – library card holders.

5. Try to figure out the true meaning of Square (from Jack Dorsey, the founder of Twitter) and that technology and the ability to purchase safely and seamlessly.  Simple safe identities in a mobile environment is the goal. Could this be a national library card?

6. Look into Google Wallet and how that may play out in Google Books, Google Scholar, G+, etc.  Clear identities in Google+ is a precursor to easy commercialization of retail sales in a social and recomendation-oriented environment.

7. Follow other new payment technologies tied to or integrated into smartphones.  It’s important.

8. As an aside we are seeing Kobo, Amazon, B&N etc. start to publish books directly.  Combined with experiments by authors like JK Rowling with Pottermore (built with OverDrive) or major fiction publishers with (built with Baker & Taylor) and you can see the dynamics of authors, publishers, retailers, and libraries shifting.  Netflix-like book subscription models are already being considered and piloted.

Why is this important to libraries? 

To my mind, this is one of those “Be careful what you wish for” scenarios.  Access to information will not only meet the at-your-fingertips standard but also the in-your-pocket opportunity.  The site or phone may also know a lot about you and your reading, learning, or research habits and interests through your social profiles.  Add to this the movement to frictionless purchasing at ‘no-brainer’ pricing and you start to see a new ecology for information emerging.  You’ll recall that we saw free and 99 cent songs change the dynamics of the entertainment industry rapidly.  Will the same happen with micro-pricing for information, research and recreational reading content? Will mobile subscriptions on phones and tablets change the dynamics of reading?

Will that ecology be based on the Google advertising and SEO / SMO model?  Will is be based on the Facebook social recommendation model?  Will it be more like the traditional online retail model like Amazon? Or will a new model emerge?  Whither subscriptions?

Where do the ecologies of libraries and community fit in the future?  How about kids and K-12 learning? What about learning and research in academic or corporate settings?  So, where does quality fit in?  How about choice and the dynamics of choosing?  Where does professional information choice and assistance fit?  Where do professional librarians, teachers, lecturers, professors and researchers fit in the future mobile-centric ecology?

Will people think beyond their pockets?  Can free services trump all?  Will commercial interests tip the balance in the force?

Change is in the air (and in the cloud).  Let’s think about the possibilities.



Posted on: October 30, 2011, 7:38 am Category: Uncategorized

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