No Mobile Technology will be Served Before Time

SAN MATEO (06/05/2000) - My favorite part of the day is in the morning when I'm half awake (or half asleep, depending on your viewpoint), and my mind is somewhere in between reality and a dream state. This is the one time during the day that you can kind of manipulate your reality and use your imagination a little bit. Otherwise, reality can be pretty predictable.

In San Francisco last month, at the InfoWorld CTO Forum, Pekka Ala-Pietila, the president of Finnish telecommunications giant Nokia Corp., laid out his vision of the future. At the end of his talk, he showed a video of how wireless technologies would be used in the future, and it had me wondering if sometimes these technology visionaries live somewhere between reality and dreams.

Nokia's video, which, to be fair, was intended for internal use only, showed real-time videoconferencing on devices smaller than today's cell phones. It showed universal and unified access, voice recognition, instant multimedia messaging, and several location-based services. It was, in short, a dream.

Ala-Pietila prefaced the video by saying that all of the technologies necessary for this dream world to become a reality were already in place. But unfortunately, that's like saying all of the elements needed to end world hunger are already on this planet. It doesn't mean it will ever happen.

Still, it is fun to imagine the possibilities. You want people to look forward to new technologies that hold promise, but at the same time, you don't want to over-promise and under-deliver.

Videoconferencing is a perfect example of this. How long have we heard about the promise of videoconferencing? Five years? Ten? Twenty? It has been only a promise for far too long, and if you've tried videoconferencing lately, you know how far it hasn't come. Now I think people are losing interest in it, and by the time it really does become a reality, the market will have dried up and moved on to other things.

Managing consumer expectations for technology is the responsibility of all technology companies. There are things that are closer to fruition than others in the world of wireless technology, and the focus should remain on those.

Technologies such as location-based services, wireless Web functionality, and combination phone/PIM (personal information manager)/browser devices are within reach. Videoconferencing on the move, instant multimedia messaging, and universal unified access are not.

Let's not confuse people now, only to disappoint them later. Great things are coming but not before their time. It's fun to dream; just remember to keep one foot grounded in reality.

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