Apart from monitoring news and blogs, the daily commute serves as field research for my work, giving me a peek of popular mobile gadgets and more importantly, the different (and sometimes unintended) ways people use them. Too often those on the forefront of technology (i.e. me) get too caught up in the flashy new features of the latest devices, which might sometimes be irrelevant to what consumes might crave. So, observing consumer behaviour brings a refreshing and accurate perspective of what would make or break a gadget and could serve as a precursor for the next big mobile trends.
Here’s a selection of the more interesting things I’ve seen (disclaimer: apologies about the low-res pictures, they were taken with an iPhone). And if you’ve got any pictures of your own, drop a link to it in the comments.
Gaming on the go
Except for the garish (to me, anyway) pink seats, you could easily mistake the local scene above for a ride on the Tokyo train line. We’ve come a long way haven’t we? These girls weren’t just happily thumbing their way on the Nintendo DS. What fascinated me was that they were effortlessly playing and collaborating on the same game wirelessly – on a moving train. Multiplayer and collaborative gameplay’s already a mainstay on the console and PC platforms and it’s only a matter of time that portable gaming devices adopt more advanced wireless technologies to enable us to play while we’re on the move.
Actually, the likelier candidates that might bring multiplayer gaming on the go to a tipping point are smartphones (the iPhone and Nokia’s N-gage comes to mind), since they already have pretty robust wireless capabilities.
A handful of my friends have stopped subscribing to a fixed broadband service at home, opting instead for a 3G modem that they can plug into a laptop so they could get connected while they’re on the move or at home. Sure, we might have Wireless@SG hotspots abundantly littered across the country but using a WiFi hotspot requires you to stay put – not so useful when you want to telecommute while you’re on the move. On the other hand, 3G offers remote internet connectivity, reasonably snappy download speeds and a sizeable chunk of data – largely enough for average users.
My only complaint? There’s no 3G coverage in some underground sections of the train lines (I’m checking with the telcos and will update this post when they get back to me). Oh, and I can’t tether my iPhone’s 3G connection to my laptop either (more on that in an upcoming blog post). If I can’t get a seat on the train, I’ll clear my email and task lists on the iPhone or make do with some reading. But if I do get a seat, I’ll be busy drafting a story on my laptop (say hi if you happen to spot me) or clearing the perpetual digital mess residing on my hard drive. I would love to be able to surf so I could do some online research or well, get on Facebook but half of my journey’s underground. =(
UPDATE: According to the telcos, work to enable the North-East MRT line with 3G coverage was completed last December. I can confirm that it works without a hitch. I managed to get a pretty good signal to stream audio from Last.fm and chatted on Windows Live Messenger without any drop in connection.
Work is still ongoing for the East-West and North-South lines and the telcos hope to get it done by this year. New ones like the Circle and Downtown lines will have 3G coverage when they start operations.
Mobile content services
Taxis now sport interactive touchscreen displays that feature content. Looks snazzy, doesn’t it? It was a nice surprise to finally get to try one out but that initial feeling of amazement dwindled away rather quickly. The user interface for the display isn’t quite intuitive (ok, as you can see, it’s just a column of colourful bars) and the content – largely movie trailers and the latest happenings in town – didn’t seem compelling enough. Worst of all? It gave me motion sickness. Luckily there was an option to shut it off. Which I did. Thank goodness.
You know what could actually be useful? Plot my journey on a (Google) map, so I could choose which expressway to use (taxi drivers, thanks for asking for my opinion but honestly, I haven’t a clue half of the time), find out which roads are congested or simply illustrate the shortest and fastest route I could take. Better still, partner with the folks at gothere, who are already doing a great job at it.
Taxi companies could go one step further and collect the data on our routes. And imagine what they could do with all that data: they can show you the best route to your destination, figure out where the passenger hotspots are so taxis can be dispatched accordingly or where taxi stands are most needed.