Searcing for Mobility
Right now I'm looking for statistics about mobile phones. Also about mobile devices in general. My purpose is not to just to write stuff, but to provide thought-provoking fodder for the Mobile Identity Workshop, which Harvard's Berkman Center is putting on in San Francisco today. The workshop will be led by yours truly, in my first public performance as a Berkman fellow.
Questions crowd the front of my mind. "How many mobile phone are we using in the world today? Is any other digital technology more widely used -- or more personal? And how can we use them to assert more capable and powerful roles for ourselves, as customers and as citizens? Can our cell phones carry and present the credentials we need to engage organizations in helpful ways? How can mobile technology help us improve the both the efficiency and humanity of the social spaces we call markets?
I figure only the first question is searchable. Since I'm guessing the answer should have "billion" in it, so I look up billion mobile phones on Google.
The lucky top result is "Two billion phone mark reached" by Tony Dennis in The Inquirer, dated 18 September 2005. It sources Wireless Intelligence, a company that sells data for a living (and offers little current help for non-customers on its website). Tony adds, "Curiously world No: 1 vendor, Nokia, reckons it will take five years to put on the next billion. After all with an estimated 6.5 billion people in the world, we're running out of people to flog new phones to." Who at Nokia?, I wonder. Does the whole company "reckon"? What's the source here? He doesn't say.
The next result is "2.5 Billion Mobile Phones in Use", a story in Cellular News that also sources Wireless Intelligence. This one also has no date, but one paragraph offers a hint: "Over the four quarters to the end of September 2006, world total net additions were 484 million. Of these, 41% were in Asia Pacific. Eastern Europe and Latin America together accounted for 30% of the growth. Africa took 10% of the growth and the relatively mature markets of Western Europe, North America and the Middle East took the remaining 20% in more or less equal measure." So I figure the vintage is recent. It adds, "According to Wireless Intelligence forecasts the next half billion new connections will take a little longer to be added - 16 months - meaning that the market is on track to reach 3 billion connections around the end of 2007."
The next result is "Putting 2.7 billion in context: Mobile phone users", by Tomi T Ahonen in Communities Dominate Brands, which is the name of both the blog and the book co-authored by Ahonen and Alan Moore. It's an interesting post that compares the 2.7 billion mobile phone figure with cars at 800 million, landline phones at 1.3 billion, TVs at 1.5 billion, credit cards at 1.4 billion, PCs at 850 million, and Internet connections at 1.1 billion. Great stuff, but what are the sources? By now my stonemason mentality has me yelling at the screen.
The next result is "Mobile phones: more than two billion served", at Windows For Devices. "The two billionth mobile phone subscriber worldwide signed up at the end of September, 2005, says ABI Research. The market data firm expects the three billionth mobile phone subscriber to sign up sometime before the end of 2008." It also says "2008 might also see the 3,500,000,000th mobile customer", sourcing ABI Research. When I go there looking for more, I find it's another research house that wants you to pay for the numbers. It does offer a pile of press releases to dredge through, but I'd rather press on through other Google search results first. On July 5, 2005, Windows for Devices also sourced a fresh Gartner report that predicted that "shipments of mobile phones will surpass 1 billion units in 2009". (Wondering... How many old mobile phones are purgatoried in desk drawers?)
Next is an Inquir piece from December, 2005 titled "3 billion mobile subscribers in 2008, not 2010: Nokia". The link uselessly redirects to the link-packed but non-helpful Inquir index page; but Google has kindly cached the original. It begins, "The industry is expecting 3 billion mobile subscribers by 2008, not 2010 as earlier predicted, according to mobile phone vendor Nokia." Specifically, "'We've changed our forecast due to the faster growth in emerging markets,' said Parikshit Bhasin, country general manager of Nokia Philippines at a yearend briefing."
So that's pretty solid, sourcewise. Mr. Bhasin is just one guy, but he's talking about a company forecast.
I'll continue to on my fact-gathering mission. Meanwhile, as my SuitWatch deadline arrives, I find myself wondering if there shouldn't be a better connection between mobile technology and search.
When we're mobile our timeframe is anchored in the present. Mobility in action is about what's happening now. Meanwhile, search of the sort we find in Google's main engine is all about the static Web. It's about the pile of Everything to which Anything else links. If the most links for "billion", "mobile" and "phone" go to a document published two years ago, that's your top result. (Yeah, I know PageRank is more complicated than that, but the core algorithm is about inbound link votes.)
Meanwhile the Live Web is also growing out there. I've written about this before, in Searching the World Live Web, The Chronological Web, among other pieces -- and in talks such as "Cluetrain +7: The Dawn of the Live Web and the Intention Economy". What I've observed is a split between the Static Web of "sites" with "addresses" and "locations" that we "architect" and "build", and the Live Web where we "post" and "blog" and "podcast" and "syndicate" -- and where engines such as Google Blogsearch, IceRocket and Technorati populate their indexes within minutes or even seconds of when a post goes up, or anything else happens.
I've been thinking about the Live Web mostly in terms of the Web of course, which has for most of its history been a Computer Thing. My nature as a writer gives me a pro-Web prejudice, naturally. I hate to admit that my favorite cell phones have been phones. Not cameras or game devices or Web cruisers.
Yet to be alive is to be mobile. Could it be that the biggest portion of the Live Web is the one that will connect 3+ billion human beings through their mobile devices?
Note: This piece is shortened and updated from my SuitWatch Newsletter for January 25, 2007. DS