Mozilla, the folks responsible for the FireFox browser, have just released an inspiring concept for a mobile phone that re-imagines the mobile future that will shortly be upon us. They’ve done this by rethinking approaches to design, sharpening our understanding of mobile and proving that software is the critical element in product development.
Before reading any further it’s worth viewing the video:
What’s quite inspiring about this video is that, unlike Facebook and many others, Mozilla isn’t planning or even rumored to be building a phone. What Mozilla is doing here is looking at the potential of mobile and throwing out a concept for us to aspire to. And what a concept it is, there’s so much to like that it is hard to know where to begin. I’m particularly taken by the idea of the multiple pico projectors and the way that they are able to create a “desktop” environment without a keyboard or a monitor. I also appreciate the slightly “bulged” form factor that allows for an easier desktop or fully mobile experience. But most of all I like the attitude and thinking that brought these ideas about.
The first is the element of crowdsourcing involved. The lead “designer” Billy May, (not the TV pitchman), is a member of the Mozilla Labs community. He first sent out the call to the community to help collaborate on this concept. The finished product reflects his curation of crowdsourced community input.
The significance here is that while crowdsourcing is not a new concept it is rapidly a mainstream activity and a signpost towards product development of the future. There is already crowdsourced encyclopedia, crowdsourced software and even crowdsourcedadvertising agencies. When you consider the quality and high level of thinking that ended up in the Seabird concept it is not hard to imagine brands and enterprises across the spectrum accepting and mainstreaming crowdsourcing as a method of product development or consumer knowledge.
Another interesting point about the Seabird concept is its approach to the dilemma of creation or consumption in mobile devices. A great deal of the thinking around mobile is developing across these two, potentially contradictory, directions. Many mobile devices, such as the iPad and its many soon-to-be-launched competitors are seen as consumption devices, where the end user sits back and directly consumes media. Laptops on the other hand are seen more as creation devices, devices that are more focused on the creation of e-mail, Word documents or this blog post. The iPhone, and especially Apps, begin to bridge the gap between creation and consumption by providing discreet usable technology experiences that involve some level of creation, from e-mailing and tweeting to video editing. The mobile phone of the future will likely need to combine the best of consumption and creation in one device. Much of what is smart, elegant and surprising about Seabird is about ideas of bridging this gap.
The final interesting point of the Seabird concept is that it demonstrates that software continues to drive hardware development especially in new product innovation. The gulf between hardware development and software development has always been a point of tension, but it has received a lot of play in recent discussions around problems at Nokia. While Nokia is a mobile pioneer that still has tremendous worldwide market share most commentators agree that they are in trouble. Nokia’s primary problem is that they don’t have a smartphone strategy and software to compete with the iPhone, and frankly every other smartphone manufacturer. Why? Apparently Nokia has always been a hardware first company, designing phones more around hardware features such as processors and the phone’s physical “look” than on software, usability and the potential of the platform. The Searbird concept succeeds by putting end user needs first and playfully and intelligently expanding upon the opportunity that mobile brings.