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Reliving the past

Posted: 03.26.07

At 3GSM there were 60,000 people searching for the killer app that would bring in the next billion users. Strangely, almost all of them found it—60,000 unique killer apps, imagine.

Wikipedia tells us that a killer app is a computer program that is so useful or desirable that it proves the value of some underlying technology, such as a gaming console, operating system, or piece of computer hardware.

Well, I don’t think we need a killer app for a mobile phone, I think the mobile phone has pretty much proven itself to have value. So it’s not the killer app they are looking for but the killer enhancement feature function application thingie that will get new subscribers to shell out $30 a month, and induce existing subscribers to toss that old $500 phone in the trash bin and get a new one.

So while a lot of folks are trying to convince the operators, as well as their own investors, that mobile TV, GPS, games, or web access is the killer app, hundreds of millions of users are typing tiny messages on tiny keyboards to be read by hundreds of other users on tiny screens. In fact, it’s estimated the number of text messages sent every day exceeds the population of the planet (and as a side note, there are 540,000 words in the English language, about five times as many as during Shakespeare’s time). So what are those text messages being sent? It’s estimated that 1.5 exabytes (1.5 x 10^18) of unique new information will be generated worldwide this year, and it is estimated that technical information is doubling every two years and is predicted to double every 72 hours by 2011. But asking your mate “Whatcha doin’?” hardly counts as technical, nor would it seem unique, so if that’s the case then there’s even more stuff being generated and sent.

The killer app is communications, voice, text, and video. The killer app will be different for different people, age and economical groups, different regions and religions, and different sex, size, and sociability.

When you are shipping billions of things to a billion people all over the world everything will be a killer app. Remember what Steve Jobs said when he introduced the iPhone? “I only need to get 1% of the market.” One percent of the market is 10 million phones. So for the iPhone the killer app is what, touch-screen? Cool looks?

The term “killer app” has become code for gimmick—the thing that will sell this worthless piece of crap some AH marketing guy convinced us to build. Make it thinner, shinier, touchable, give it ten antennas, 3D, something, anything, but get ’em out of the warehouse before they have our financial call.

Nice place—any chance we can keep it that way?

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Visiting Barcelona the other week was delightful—it’s really a great town. The 3GSM conference is exciting and vibrant, and sadly growing (up from 22,000 in 2002 to 60,000 this year).

I say sadly because it’s been my observation that when trade shows grow, the charm does go.

I saw it happen to NCC, Comdex, Cebit, Siggraph, and CES. Cebit and Siggraph thankfully recovered, but Siggraph’s counterpart, NCGA, didn’t, nor did any of the others while CES grew to gargantuan proportions in a town that can’t handle it, resulting in scaring away attendees (there was a drop in attendance this year).

So I’m hoping 3GSM will level off in attendance, but most likely it won’t as everyone tries for a grab at the next billion users of mobile phones.