Adoption of Mobile Phones

Cell phones are an example of gradual technology adoption.

  1. Access only for rich people. It's seen as a luxury, it's a radical improvement, but it is not inconceivable for an average person from the get go. No strong reaction.
  2. Gradual dissemination. People don't make a conscious decision to make the transition to tech-enabled state. They just gradually adopt the new tech. No excitement, only on the personal level.
  3. Social changes. People are annoyed by bad things, ignore the good things. Not much excitement. Some claim they can't live without it, but that doesn't translate into a large scale reaction.
  4. Wise people comment on the changes. They write about radically new applications – flashmobs, mobloging, always connected lifestyle. These are really important and real changes. But most people don't care one way or another.
  5. The technology is adopted. That's it.

At no point was there particular excitement about the technology.

The development of mobile phones is also a good example of technological determinism. Despite the privacy and security concerns the cameras became a ubiquitous feature. "[In 2004 the government of Saudi Arabia] banned camera-equipped phones but backed off because cameras have become a feature in most phones." If it's possible and if it's even marginally useful, it will be developed and produced eventually.

Lessons from Adoption Pattern

  • Adoption of mobile phones followed an 'S' curve.
  • Adoption was faster than adoption of faxes because unlike faxes they shared network-effect with the existing network of phones.
  • Tradesmen were amongst the early adopters. It meant that 'their wives didn't need to sit by the phone'. Tradesmen could answer calls on the job, and so get more work.
  • One of the big technology hurdles was in cost control, 'radio-planning' - working out where to place base stations, taking account of terrain and diffraction effects, so as to minimize cost to the network.

In looking at new technology we should look for similar factors at work.


Predicting that the successor to the mobile phone will be more powerful than current desktop computers is hardly contentious. Nor is predicting convergence of many devices into one.

  • Your 'Mobile Phone' will incorporate a GPS system. You can use it as a compass to find a friend in a crowded pub.
  • Some international VOIP calls will be free, subsidized by spoken Google Ads.
  • To address increasing interest in health issues and hence widespread concerns about the radiation from mobile phones and mobile phone masts, mobile phones and masts will switch to a phased-array system so that their broadcasts are directional. This will also significantly reduce power requirements so that you can use your phone for a month without recharging it.
  • You'll be able to flick a switch to make your voice sound sexier and more confident, through automatic changes in pitch, intonation, and the removal of 'ums' and 'errs'.
  • On your way to and from work you may also choose to use your 'phone' as a study aid, perhaps learning Mandarin from it, or to revise biotechnology for an exam. These courses will be vastly more effective than current courses, through programmed customisation, and advances in the theory of learning and attention.
  • You'll be able to 'think' to your phone, using subvocal recording, and it will organise your disconnected thoughts as notes, as best it can.
  • By 2030 your phone will incorporate automatic translation so that you can easily speak with someone in a language not your own.
  • The built in answer phone will become so sophisticated that it will be quite easy take a more urgent call with the answer phone holding the fort until you've dealt with it.



Aeon concept from Nokia with a "full surface touchscreen"

Full-surface touchscreen was done by many manufacturers in 2007 for real. :)

See also


  • Timeline of the development of the mobile phone.
  • Bell Lab's Blast antenna system is an example of the phased array approach which is mentioned in the discussion above. The operating principle seems to be that bandwidth in a cell can be increased by increasing the number of antennae - because interference fringes allows for spatial segregation which is additional to the frequency segregation.

This is a factual article as opposed to fiction or scenario. It describes the current state of the field and explains expected future developments without speculation or fantasy.