Way Back When

Remember way back when a phone was just a phone? When we relied on fixed landlines? When we ran for the phone instead of pulling it out of our pocket? When we lost our friends at a crowded ballgame and waited around for hours hoping to reunite? When we forgot the grocery list (see Figure 1.1) and had to find a payphone or drive back home again?

Those days are long gone. Today, commonplace problems such as these are easily solved with a one-button speed dial or a simple text message like "WRU?" or "20?" or "Milk and?"

Our mobile phones keep us safe and connected. Now we roam around freely, relying on our phones not only to keep in touch with friends, family, and coworkers, but also to tell us where to go, what to do, and how to do it. Even the most domestic of events seem to revolve around my mobile phone.

Consider the following true story, which has been slightly enhanced for effect:

Once upon a time, on a warm summer evening, I was happily minding my own business cooking dinner in my new house in rural New Hampshire when a bat swooped over my head, scaring me to death.

The first thing I did—while ducking—was to pull out my cell phone and send a text message to my husband, who was across the country at the time. I typed, "There's a bat in the house!"

My husband did not immediately respond (a divorce-worthy incident, I thought at the time), so I called my dad and asked him for suggestions on how to get rid of the bat.

He just laughed.

Figure 1.1 Mobile phones have become a crucial shopping accessory.

Annoyed, I snapped a picture of the bat with my phone and sent it to my husband and my blog, simultaneously guilt-tripping him and informing the world of my treacherous domestic wildlife encounter.

Finally, I googled "get rid of a bat" and then I followed the helpful do-it-yourself instructions provided on the Web for people in my situation. I also learned that late August is when baby bats often leave the roost for the first time and learn to fly. Newly aware that I had a baby bat on my hands, I calmly got a broom and managed to herd the bat out of the house.

Problem solved—and I did it all with the help of my trusty cell phone, the old LG VX9800.

My point here? Mobile phones can solve just about anything—and we rely on them for everything these days.

You notice that I used half a dozen different mobile applications over the course of this story. Each application was developed by a different company and had a different user interface. Some were well designed; others not so much. I paid for some of the applications, and others came on my phone.

As a user, I found the experience functional, but not terribly inspiring. As a mobile developer, I wished for an opportunity to create a more seamless and powerful application that could handle all I'd done and more. I wanted to build a better bat trap, if you will.

Before Android, mobile developers faced many roadblocks when it came to writing applications. Building the better application, the unique application, the competing application, the hybrid application, and incorporating many common tasks such as messaging and calling in a familiar way were often unrealistic goals.

To understand why, let's take a brief look at the history of mobile software development.

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