It's that time of year again, when everyone in my family reminds me that “Your Christmas spirit sucks!”
“Was he like this even when you were a kid?” my wife asks my daughter.
She knows better than to answer such things a couple of weeks out from the day when she still hopes to get some overpriced electronic gadget out of this Grinch. “He’ll disappear at some point on Christmas and you will find him back at his desk working.”
OK, so I am not the jolliest of elves.
But I do have at least a few things to be jolly about after a year of innovation in mobile. Like Santa, I have been keeping a list of who has been naughty and nice. And as much as every molecule of my “two-sizes-too-small” heart yearns to hand out lumps of coal, the “nice” list is particularly full this year. This is not a “best of” or top ten. These are just the bits of mobile technology and content that keep the Grinch at bay.
Yes, it has been a good year for mobile, but not just in terms of buzz, revenue and momentum. Simply in terms of sheer quality and impact in people’s lives, this medium is coming into its own and becoming important on a number of levels.
The Android marketplace: The latest update to the look and feel of the market is a vast improvement over the horrid state it has been in since the start. While far from elegant, it is now navigable, and slowly but surely stocked with something other than obvious knock-offs of the iOS hits.
Google mobile search: Every day in every way it gets more interesting and usable. The presentation of mobile search results is now moving toward contextual awareness. From the uses of localization to smarter parsing of mobile keywords, it feels as if search is growing a mobile brain.
Zite: This quickly became my favorite news aggregator this year. The way in which it allows users to create their own topics so easily and leverages behavioral patterns well results in a product that feels more personalized than others.
Mobile-based remotes: Apps like Xfinity’s, or even Google TV and the recent Peel, are the best and smartest answer to the worst gadget in the house -- the remote control -- and the worst interface in the house (aside from the microwave and radio clock): the cable menu. God bless 'em.
Encyclopedia Britannica apps: These new reference tools are models of smart and efficient information architecture. As we ask handsets to behave like desktop PCs, we need people to think harder about how massive amounts of content are streamlined to what we need here and now. These guys have had centuries to explore that question. The exploding LinkMap of related topics is inspired.
iCloud’s Find My iPhone: Apple iCloud is still a work in progress for me, because controlling the Photo Stream and deciphering what is being backed up where is still inscrutable. But this one goes out to my wife, who was a half-hearted passenger on the family mobile express when I got her the iPhone. Half the time she doesn’t know where she left it. Now I can bug the hell out of her by making its Find My iPhone alarm go off.
Mobile Web: The mobile browsing experience for most major brands and content outlets has advanced substantially since last year. As Google well knows as it evangelizes this position relentlessly, we need to do more to ensure that a mobile search lands someone on a mobile-optimized page. But we are much closer now.
AR: Augmented reality is going to get much more attention this coming year. The wider use of bar code scanning and QR reading helped user get closer to grasping how the phone can provide a digital tissue-paper onto the world. Starbuck’s AR campaign on holiday coffee cups is a good example, and I expect some retailers will play with it in their apps to provide store directions and informational overlays.
Digital Comics: Marvel, DC, and others took the plunge this year and started making their digital editions available same day as print. There are just a few media experiences that are superior on mobile platforms. This is one of them.
"Bambi" and "The Lion King": these two Blu-ray releases from Disney came with second-screen apps that were the smartest executions of mobile/TV synchronization I have seen. The multiscreen ultimately will offer us new ways of perceiving and creating media experiences, not just multiple ways of accessing the same content. In five or 10 years, synchronized-screen media could represent as fundamentally new an experience as interactive video gaming has been in the last decade.
HBO Go: This company's high dive into the TV Everywhere pool is helping all others realize that mobile devices can be used intelligently to bolt people to your brands. For decades big old media have made a series of stupid moves into digital. This was one of the smartest. I don’t even watch HBO shows live. I keep the subscription so I can access the content on - demand.
The Appification of gaming: Just as the video game industrial complex was strangling creativity with its high-risk, high-cost console game economy, mobile apps come in to broaden the creative franchise. The level of creativity, sheer whimsy and design sense unleashed by the new app-based game economy is one of the real creative achievements of this platform. These digital gadgets, designed and led for so long by humorless engineers and officious productivity mavens, now can make us smile, keep us absorbed, and drop us into candylands of Wonka-like imagination.
Siri: Not because she is so smart or good to show off to others, but because she has very accurate speech-to-text. Now, my tirades to wife and daughter over SMS can be spoken (or ranted), not typed, just as God intended. Technology has made me a better and more efficient Grinch.