Generation Mobile

Tell me if this sounds familiar: you are at a family function, or a party of some sort. People brought their kids with them – little ones. The kind that tend to run around and squeal at the top of their lungs for hours on end. Especially if there is cake involved. They get that cake in their system at the end of the night, and suddenly they go from wiped out and ready to sleep to pure bottled madness. So you brace yourself, and practice your “dodge the running child without spilling a beer” move but then the night is quiet. The kids are abnormally well behaved and nowhere to be seen. They are not outside, they are not running around in the kitchen, they are not bumping into things. They are all sitting on the couch. iPod touch in hand playing games or browsing the web.

Meet the mobile generation. Meet the next step in human evolution.

These kids are growing up with multi-touch devices in hand. This is interesting, because it’s is unprecedented. Some of us grew up with mobile gaming platforms – gameboys and such. Sadly, none of these were fully fledged computing platforms. Smart phones and iDevices are. To do anything other than gaming, we had to strap ourselves to a stationary device with mouse and keyboard. These kids just need to reach to their pocket, or be within a range of Wifi. For them these are their primary computing tools, desktops and laptops being secondary.

I often talk about how multi-touch is not all that it has cracked up to be. How the pictures under glass paradigm is not really that functional. But you know what? The youngsters don’t have such hangups. They make it work. Just like our forefathers who were quite handy and efficient on ye old teletype machines, kids these days take the touch paradigm and work the shit out of it. When I watch them use their touch devices, I sometimes feel like an old man. For me, doing anything complex on my phone is a chore. Copying and pasting things between apps or editing text is just a pain in the ass, and I usually just crack open my laptop for that. Not everyone is that way. I actually have met a kid recently for created, and maintained active online presence (a popular Tumblr, Twitter, facebook, etc..) with nothing but an iPhone and 3G connection. And I only know this because there was some glitch in the Tumblr interface at some point that could only be changed via the web interface which just happened not to work properly in mobile Safari.

A lot of people these days consider touch devices to be mainly content consumption devices. But it turns out that people actually use them for content creation. Younger generations somehow train themselves to get good typing speeds on the iPad keyboards and actually maintain short form blogs without a need for a traditional computer. They edit and retouch photos, they create rage comics and publish finger doodles. And soon enough we will have a whole new breed of Photoshop artists who have never actually touched a mouse in an artistic kind of way.

Now to me, experiencing the web through the tiny screen of an iPhone is a tad limiting. It’s liberating, yes – I love to be able to browse Reddit while waiting in line at my favorite food joint at my lunch break, or while taking a stroll. But I would not use it as a primary computing device. It’s my backup – it’s something I use when I’m away from my full size electronic devices. But for many kids touch devices are the preferred internet platforms. They live in the digital world, experiencing it through their hand-held touch devices. And they are almost as efficient at using internet as we are at using our desktops and laptops.

I still maintain that pictures under glass is a dead end. But the future generations are likely to adapt and make it work for them, so it may stick around for a while. Or not. At this point it is hard to tell. Perhaps we will find new ways to explore touch interfaces. Perhaps we will forge ahead with smooth glass interfaces. Or perhaps Google glasses will completely revolutionize mobile computing later this year. Who knows.

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14 Responses to Generation Mobile

  1. well.. in the last few months i was more and more often restricted to mobile devices (in my case my phone: droid1 and my ARM-Netbook Toshiba AC100, currently running Android3)

    Both have pretty decent input-devices (hw-keyboard on both, on the netbook even in 10-Finger-usable-size) that do not differ that much from my desktop-pc, but still i could not get myself to do everything with them what i ordinarily on my desktop.
    Like: posting quotes/pictures/videos on diaspora, cut/paste on android still sucks (although i find it at least superior to iOS) and marking text without a propper mouse while accidently moving the background instead of selecting something is gruesome.

    Still: those are software-problems and i think them pretty much solveable. Everything for what i have decent software (i.e. most things where i just ssh into my server and use software there) is pretty much of a non-issue to me.

    Does that make multitouch something usable? i don’t think so. But i think not having the correct tools on multitouch-devices makes them look far worse then they are.
    I think my generation has the “problem” of knowing too well what is possible on desktop-devices and is now looking for the same solutions on a different platform instead of looking for new solutions.

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  2. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Google Chrome Linux Terminalist says:

    @ Dr. Azrael Tod:

    Yeah, copy & Paste sucks on iOS too. It’s not unusable, but it usually takes much more effort than on the desktop – you have to adjust your selection on both sides using little handles, and scrolling while selecting is finicky. On the desktop it is mostly effortless.

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  3. @ Luke Maciak:
    i know.. have to use it every day at work :-/

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  4. Rob UNITED STATES Google Chrome Ubuntu Linux Terminalist says:

    You know the place I use my iPhone the most? When I’m on the can. It’s gotten to the point where I can’t go without it. In fact much to my friends dismay I probably make most of my “Words with Friends” moves during my morning constitutional. However, I couldn’t imagine using it or a tablet as a primary computing device. Some day we might be forced too, but I’ll keep a death grip on my desktop and laptop until then.

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  5. Morghan UNITED STATES Safari Linux says:

    My laptop has actually become my backup for times when mobile software just doesn’t cut it. I do, however, admit that scrolling while making a copy selection is still barely usable. I definitely prefer hardware keyboards, especially with my extremely complicated passwords, but I have no problem with using touch interfaces for all but the most complicated editing.

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  6. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Google Chrome Linux Terminalist says:

    @ Rob:

    Ah, see – never take my phone into the bathroom. I’m deathly afraid of dropping it into the can… Or the sink… Or dropping it on the hard tiled floor and cracking the screen. :P

    @ Morghan:

    Very true. Some of my passwords contain non-alphanumerics that I memorized as Shift+5 for example. When I’m on the iPhone trying to log into my stuff I always have the problem of not remembering what symbol is Shift+5.

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  7. Matt` UNITED KINGDOM Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    This is going to be the thing that makes me seem old to my future kids one day isn’t it…

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  8. @ Luke Maciak:
    there are people who actually even try to enter complex passwords/URLs/whatever via touch-keyboard? I just found it unbearable.
    Currently i just know 2 ways of entering such:

    selecting from a submenu (like -> selecting numbers, selecting shift, selecting one sign, going back to non-shifted characters -> next symbol, back to numbers …)
    holding some button (where special-chars aren’t even displayed on) down for 1-3sec, then selecting from 1-10 special-symbols

    I find both horrible and can’t believe that noone came up with one solution that doesn’t suck that much.

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  9. astine UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    I have trouble seeing Google Glasses catch on the way smart phones have. You’d look like such a tool wearing them around. Then again, that doesn’t stop folks with the bluetooth headsets.

    I dropped my phone into the toilet once. I had it in my shirt pocket and while I leaned over to see what I’d done it fell out of my pocket and into the can. Quick action and a bowel of rice saved the phone I’m happy to say but I no longer keep it in my shirt pocket if I can help it.

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  10. @ astine:
    riiiight… like users looking like a fools, prevented those huge brick-phones back in the days or current half-tablets, from catching on.

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  11. I remember when I lived without internet- nothing but a 3G iPhone, and I made it work.
    Tethered and everything, that phone was my life.
    Another example is when you’re driving through a foreign country, and you need a GPS device.

    If you lose your phone you’re fucked. (well not totally, but for our examples here it works). You can find your way, but you’ve lost all temporary contact to any individuals you were speaking to, as well as your medium of communication with the outside world…

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  12. astine UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    @ Dr. Azrael Tod:
    I said “tool” not “fool.” I’m not quite “hip,” but even I understand that there’s a difference between carrying something in your bag and wearing it on your face. In order for something to catch on in the way we’re talking, it will need to seem “cool” to most users. What makes something socially acceptable in this sense will be a combination of looks, function, signalling status. As geeks (I assume) you and I are less susceptible to looks and signalling than we are to function, most people aren’t. Young people, including people I know, routinely sacrifice function for fashion. Older people will often handily sacrifice function for signalling status.

    You’re talking about those old brick phones, but those A) were very useful to people with high status jobs, so combined with their expense, they B) developed a signalling status which made them more popular.

    Those glasses have some real advantages but Google is going to have to higher some expensive designers and highly qualified ad-men to convince people that wearing VR gear in public is anything but anti-social.

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  13. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Google Chrome Linux Terminalist says:

    @ Matt`:

    We need to train hard and never let them know it bothers us!

    @ Dr. Azrael Tod:

    The win8 touch keyboard seems to have a number row that makes this ordeal a little less horrible. But then again, to get it you need to use Win8 device which in itself is a torture, so there you go.

    @ astine:

    If Apple makes glasses you can bet people are going to buy them, and they are going to be a status symbol.

    @ Andrew Zimmerman:

    One day I was driving to the gym and realized I forgot my phone. I didn’t really need it at the gym, so I didn’t bother going back to get it. It’s just that on my way there I had this weird fear: what if I get into an accident? what if my car breaks? How am I going to call for help? I don’t even know anyones number anymore.

    Granted, I could easily just walk home from the gym but you know – irrational cell phone withdrawal symptoms.

    @ astine:

    Most Bluetooth sets are not designer brands, and are generally considered tacky when worn while not being actively used. But just look at all these people walking around with a blinking LED sticking out of their ear. I suppose glasses will be like that. Yes, people will look like tools in them, but they won’t care. Then someone (not necessarily Google) will come up with a designer brand and kids are going to be wearing them as a status symbol.

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  14. BTW: @Bluetooth-Headphones

    I just LOVE my Phillips SHB9000, owned them some years now (but sadly last month plastic started to break, so currently i consider buying SHB9100 or the likes)
    My Wife and her Brother both bought the SHB6110 and are pretty impressed too, so i think those aren’t that uncool. :-)

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