In order to further our understanding of the behaviors developing around mobile technology, we have been reaching out to experts around the world for their unique insights. By doing this, we are able to escape ourselves and become exposed to new perspectives.
Clark MacLeod is a Canadian born designer who has been living and working in Hsinchu, Taiwan for the past 11 years. He's been fortunate enough to work on a wide range of projects -- most recently he has investigated collaborative systems (including mobile) for the Creativity Lab at the Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI). While working as an engineer at ITRI, he spent some time creating ambient and tangible interfaces, sound art, and helped create on of the first UX teams in Taiwan. His current focus is on launching a couple of iPhone apps and something completely different, a new line of cotton and canvas bags.
When asked about his background and relationship with mobile, he explained an interest in technology as an enabler for lifestyle. Clark quotes the BBC's Eric Huggers when describing himself as one of many "who love the convenience of mobile services when they're on the move."
On your blog, Popwuping, you track the ‘culture of mobility’, could you describe what elements feed into and enable this? What patterns are you noticing?
Fashion, devices, services, places to work, places to play, and design are themes that I follow. I try to make sense of an increasingly mobile society and share what inspires me.
One thing we try to remind ourselves to do is to look back in order to observe change. Have you been following any specific developments in mobile culture or user behavior?
One change I have been observing is the way people personalize their mobile devices and the way in which they carry them.
As phones got smaller it was extremely common to see females of (almost) all ages attaching straps or cute tchotchke as a means of projecting personality or values and as a means to be able to actually find these small devices in their bags. But as people move to devices like the iPhone, this strategy is replaced by personalization inside the phone; what apps they have, the social networks they frequent, the wallpaper etc. They buy cute cases and bags but I haven't seen this to be as prevalent as before.
Though it's very hard to imagine in an engineering culture like Taiwan, I am slowly seeing less concern about specific hardware features as compared to software. Photography is a huge national hobby here, making the camera in the phone perhaps the last vestige of concern. I think people are becoming more interested in the intangibles vs. the tangibles when it comes to choosing a device.
You are based in Taiwan. What cultural differences have you noticed in mobile, both consumer side and industry side, between Asia and the West? How are certain age groups making use of mobile devices differently?
I've lived in Asia for the past 12 years so it's a bit difficult for me to come up with a contrast. My impression is that the industry here is far more developed than what is available where I grew up in Canada. 3G networks are ubiquitous, unlimited data is fairly cheap and there are far more devices to choose from. I still find it amazing that I can be standing in a field in some remote part of Taiwan and still be streaming YouTube videos to my kids.
I may not have an accurate picture of how young people in Taiwan use their devices but I see differences in frequency of use across age groups. I notice younger people using their mobiles far more than people my age. Young people see it as more of a social enabler than purely a communication device. I notice many people my age see the ability to be always connected and reachable as a disadvantage. I have a friend who for years avoided getting a mobile phone simply because he didn't want to be contacted outside of working hours. To avoid interruptions, I send my calls to voice mail for most of the day. But across all age groups most people here could not imagine leaving their home without their mobile, it's an intrinsic part of peoples lives.
What mobile services or startups do you see picking up steam in Taiwan or Asia in general? Are there any you are a fan of?
Plurk is still immensely popular here and they have a fine mobile version but I'm not a fan.
I do have enormous respect for the work that researchers at the Information and Communications Research Laboratories are doing. One of their projects, Pocket Channel, is promising. Pocket Channel allows for real time video broadcasting on a 3G mobile to other mobile phones, essentially allowing the same kind of instant news coverage we see with Twitter but with video. They describe it as enabling everyone to be an instant news reporter.
I have also recently seen a demo of StreetImage - a web service that allows people to upload their own street videos. You can build sharable trails which can be annotated and searched by the other users. It's something I've always wished that Google streetview could do. They have developed an app for Android and the iPhone. The latter of which can be downloaded from the app store. Very cool stuff from a technology stand point.
Also worth noting is Openmoko, based in Taipei, and their open source mobile phone.