I have the pleasure of working from Racepoint Group’s fantastic U.K. office this week (Check out their blog on digital PR. It’s worth it for the headlines alone.)
There were quite a few things I was looking forward to during this trip – meeting a famous footballer, raiding TopShop and, being the mobile enthusiast I am, checking out all things British and mobile. I was going to come back fabulously dressed, properly impressed and totally mobile-y superior
Because for years, we Americans were the red-headed stepchildren of the mobile world. While were heralding of the introduction of the slider phone (“It’s not flat and doesn’t flip? SIGN.ME.UP.”), we heard stories about Asian commuters using their handsets for everything from paying for their groceries to making dim sum (okay, that’s possibly a slight exaggeration). Europeans had access to chic, fashion-forward phones plated in gold, designed by Versace and packed with cool features. I remember being in Italy in the summer of 2003 as a student and plotting to steal my Scottish friend’s sleek, color display (!) handset – until I realized it was pointless because it wouldn’t work Stateside.
Needless to say, I had high expectations for this trip. I was pretty confident I would find some new, mysterious European mobile secret I could come back feeling superior knowing (or writing) about.
And then a strange thing happened. There’s nary an iPad in sight (compared to San Francisco, where my cab driver is using Square on his iPad to process my credit card). Unlike the streets of SF or NY, you don’t see people using great business apps like Bump or Card Munch in London.
Sure, Brits text during cultural events just like we do and check their email under the table during dinner, but their phones are just a utility.
Could it be? Have Americans become more cosmopolitan and cutting-edge than Europeans when it comes to mobile? While I’m sure many of my colleagues in the UK would disagree, I say yes.
How did this happen? We’re they too busy worrying about which Manchester United player is snogging a reality star?
I have to give the credit to Apple. While Uncle Steve was busy changing the way we interact with our devices, he created a seismic shift in the mobile industry’s power balance. And, a few years later, Google’s introduction of Android and sealed U.S. dominance in all things mobile.
Now, it doesn’t matter if a Japanese company designs a sleek, minimalist handset that looks like it could propel you to the next century if you press the right button. Same goes for Germany.
Because, it no longer matters what it looks like (let’s be honest, they all look like iPhones or dinosaurs). It’s the software that enables the functionality we crave and – at long last! – Silicon Valley has taken the lead. Score another one for the colonies!
A little bit more about me: Old enough to remember actual car phones, I’ve been at the cutting edge of mobile since I had the Nokia 3650 before Paris Hilton did. I’m interested in the sociological impact of mobile on our lives and the technology driving the next generation of devices. While my iPhone has gotten me out of some sticky situations, it still can’t hug me back.