Sunday, January 14, 2007

i-Phone or wii-Phone?

There are apparently two reasons someone might want a mobile phone, which can be summed up by the contrast between the Apple prefix (i-) (pronounced I) and the Nintendo prefix (wii-) (pronounced we).

The Apple prefix suggests private consumption. The iPhone appears to be an elegant cross between a top-of-the-range iPod and a Blackberry, designed for people that want to look cool while cutting themselves off from normal social interaction. Ever since the launch of the Sony Walkman, those tiny headphones signal "don't talk to me, I'm listening to something". And many people seem to use their mobile devices as a way of disengaging from their immediate surroundings.

The iPhone has been extensively reviewed, and I don't want to do a detailed review here. I just want to point to a few comments that suggest the iPhone isn't radical enough:
  • "Call me crazy, but I think Apple have overdone the technology innovation, and undercooked the business model innovation." (Martin Geddes)
  • "What it doesn't do is actually re-invent the very thing that makes cellphones magical: how you connect with other people." (Seth Godin)

The wii-prefix, on the other hand, suggests a shared experience. In a post Disappearing Telephony from January 2006, Martin Geddes made an excellent point about conversation and presence ("humans are sophisticated social animals, and it shouldn’t come as a surprise if our conversation tools need to act intelligently too"), which I followed up in my post on Coffee Shop ("Forget LinkedIn, let's have EspressedIn"). It now seems Seth Godin and Rikard Linde are thinking along similar lines.

As far as I know, Nintendo has no plans to launch a mobile phone. But there are some good precedents for social interaction in the latest games consoles, and it would be interesting to see a communication device based on the wii- prefix rather than the i-prefix.

Update January 2007

I have found some rumour pages from last year about a possible wii-phone, plus a German cartoon.

Update June 2019

Many years ago, I wrote a critique for New Society about the way enterpreneurs like Sir Clive Sinclair were being idolized by the Thatcher Government. As an aside, I noted the attenuation of social consumption.

"The trend is towards individual consumption, and all of Sir Clive's inventions contribute to this trend. He has produced a car that takes only one passenger, a television too small for communal viewing, computers that are mainly used by children playing private games on their own, thus avoiding the stress of direct competition with other children. Many people working with computers have spoken with enthusiasm of a future society in which all basic transactions (including schooling, shopping, banking and all office work) will be carried out from home, using computer technology. We have already substituted the personal hifi for the concert , the rented video for the evening out, the televised press conference for the public meeting. Now the trend is to reduce social contact even further." Cry God for Maggie, England and St Clive (New Society, 9 May 1985)

Obviously some of this argument looks a bit dated now. What about multi-player games, as I noted in 2007? What about "social media"? But I think the main thrust of the argument still applies. Let me give the final word to @rachelcoldicutt

Updated 14 June 2019

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