Academic journal article Library Technology Reports

Why Worry about Mobile?

Academic journal article Library Technology Reports

Why Worry about Mobile?

Article excerpt


Mobile devices are ubiquitous in today's society, and there's no evidence that that is going to change. According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project as of mid-2010, 82 percent of American adults own a mobile phone or a mobile computing device that works as a phone. This chapter of Libraries and Mobile Services sets the stage for the Report, explaining why it is crucial for librarians to understand mobile devices and provide services through them.


I've always had a fascination with gadgets, especially small, portable gadgets. I recall debating with my parents about why a Casio Databank watch would be the perfect souvenir by which to remember a family vacation. And as befits someone who was firmly in the target demographic of the 1980s Transformers craze, multifunction gadgets hold a particular attraction.

The aforementioned predilections go only so far toward explaining how I found myself on a Saturday morning in the fall of 2003 waiting in my car for my local GameStop to open. That October week had seen the release of what I was convinced was a groundbreaking convergence gadget: the videogame- and MP3-playing, Web-browsing smartphone. I was waiting for the privilege of exchanging hard-won U.S. currency for a Nokia N-Gage (figure 1).

If you're familiar with the N-Gage, you're likely wiping away tears from derisive laughter. If not, allow me to explain why the N-Gage holds a special place in the hall of fame of misguided, poorly designed gadgets. Sure enough, it played videogames, which were sold on small memory cards. When the time came to swap cards so you could play another of the few games ever released for the device, you needed to power down the N-Gage, remove the back cover, and pop out the battery, underneath which was nestled the Tony Hawk or Red Faction card.


It played MP3s all right, which you could load on a memory card. The only problem was that memory card occupied the same slot as the game card, so switching from the game I'd been playing on the bus to the music I wanted to listen to on the walk home required balancing the cards, cover, battery, and phone on my lap before my stop.

The challenges of using the N-Gage as a gaming and multimedia device had nothing on the indignity of actually talking on the thing. In order to cram gaming controls and a number pad on the face of the N-Gage, the engineers at Nokia placed the speaker and microphone along the top edge. So, rather than holding the flat face of the device to my ear, as one might expect, I talked into the long, narrow edge, with the device protruding from my head like a fin. Imagine trying to talk into the bottom of a hard-shell taco. Now imagine my wife shaking her head as she bemoaned my "giant crazy phone."

My wife wasn't the only one who mocked the N-Gage. "Sidetalking" became quite the meme in 2003-2004, and jokesters shared photos of themselves online talking into the side of improbably large and unwieldy props (figure 2). Visit the Sidetalkin' website for some galleries that immortalize the mockery of my giant crazy phone.


The N-Gage was undoubtedly a commercial failure, and while I didn't love it personally, it did open my eyes to what was possible in a mobile device. It was the first time I had a web browser in my pocket at all times--a slow, clunky WAP (Wireless Access Protocol) browser, but a browser nonetheless. It ran Nokia's Symbian Series 60 smartphone operating system, and there were dozens of free and paid applications available. I had a primitive geolocation app that allowed me to define places like "home" and "work" by the cell towers in the vicinity and change settings on the phone depending on where I was (at work, turn the ringer off; at home, turn the ringer and Bluetooth on, etc.). It was unlocked, meaning it could be used on any GSM mobile carrier. …

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