We’ve reached the final day of 2009, the last day of both the year and the decade. Wow, hard to believe that it was ten whole years ago that I was single-handedly running the smallest bar in the biggest club in my hometown while staff and club-goers counted down the end of a thousand year period. And now here I am with you guys, leading a relatively quieter life, and looking back on the first ten years of the Millenium. It’s certainly been an odd few years. Technology has taken off like a rocket, particularly those communication and artificial intelligence technologies I’m most interested in. The biggest country in the world suffered a devastating attack at the things they’re most proud of (currency, government and military installations) and gathered first support from all over the world and then condemnation for their reaction to this event. Reality television swept across the world dragging our collective intellects down, and gaining so much of the ratings that the only programmes capable of gaining a foothold were a few comedies and shows that had large ensemble casts and more mysteries in the storyline than most of us can usually follow if we dare miss a single episode. More recently a man well known for trying to act and look like he never ages died, shocking the world and starting more conspiracy theories than even he managed to start while alive.
That’s the tiniest smattering of all the many things that have happened in the past ten years, so how can I possibly make a post to cover it all? The short answer is that I can’t. All I can possibly do is to write about something that means something to me, something I regularly post about and make it work for this event. I recently read an article where Metacritic (a site that aggregates review scores for videogames) counted down the top games of this decade and announced the one that had the very highest average score. Sadly that game was Tony Hawks Pro Skater 2, beating even Grand Theft Auto 4 for scores, but the article did give me an idea. For this last post of the year, this last post of the decade, I’ll be writing about the phone I think has been the most influential in this past ten years.
It’s a tough choice in this decade which has seen advanced mobile technology change from simply being able to program your own ringtones, to full web browsing, advanced music players and multiple input technologies. Should I recognise the camera-phone as the most influential or the music-phone? How about the smartphone If you’ve glanced over at the image on the left (and know phones) you’ll already know what my answer is. If you don’t know phones you’ll at least recognise that it’s not a recent phone, no this model was released in 2002 and at first glance it’s not what you’d call a landmark. It wasn’t the first model to bring colour screens to phones – that honour belongs to the Ericsson T68, a phone I’m proud to have owned. It wasn’t the first phone to bring GPRS data speeds and MMS messaging to phones – that one was the Sony Ericsson T68i, the upgraded version of the T68 and first phone from the joining of Sony and Ericsson. It wasn’t the first phone to allow java application and game downloads – that one was the Nokia 3410, a horrendous looking device with a keypad that made me sick to look at it. In fact, at the time of it’s release every single technology in this phone had been used in at least one other model from the same or competing manufacturers.
So, why have I chosen this particular model as the Phone Of The Decade? To understand that you really have to look at the mobile landscape back then. These days phones are sold on their features (or unprecedented amounts of hype paid for by gigantic fruitful companies) but back then it was all about the ringtones. Now I’m not talking about the full MP3s that we take for granted these days, I’m talking about a twenty second long polyphonic ringtone with an entire four beeps being able to be played at the same time, and if you could have more than one of these downloaded to your phone at the same time then you had a good phone. New technologies like picture messaging were rarely advertised until much later when the networks got round to making them cross-network, and most phones could receive the messages but not send them, crippling the service before it began. Faster data and colour screens were the exclusive property of the most expensive phones. Downloadable games were few and far between, and the applications all but useless. And then came the 3510i and everything changed.
“Here you go”, Nokia said, “have a 4,096 colour screen on your handset and the ability to set colour wallpapers. Have downloadable java games and faster, more secure GPRS data speeds to get hold of them more quickly. Have space for 15 downloadable ringtones if you’re that way inclined. Have voice dialling and removable covers. Have MMS that you can both send and receive. Have everything that we’ve been packing into our most expensive handsets and a little bit more, and have it at a budget price.” And there we hear the magic words – Budget Price. All of these technologies had been in phones before but they were either concept phones trying out the new technology (the Nokia 3410 being the first phone with Java downloads but being pretty bad in all other respects) or would be higher tier models that cost more than twice what most people were paying every month on their mortgages if bought SIM-free, or would need to be bought with a long running highly expensive contract. The Nokia 3510i was the first phone that brought these things to the masses who couldn’t afford the most expensive models, it was the first post-pay phone to have the features that the contract only devices had. For most people who owned the phone it was the first time they’d owned a phone that could do anywhere near as much as it could and their reaction was something amazing to see.
Word of mouth started to spread about the phone. People who had it showed off all it’s wonderful abilities to those that didn’t. People started downloading games to the phone more often than anyone expected causing many companies to throw together mobile games and dozens of sites to crop up where people could download them for free, usually because they couldn’t find the sites to buy the games on. Almost as soon as this phone arrived an pay-as-you-go deals it became the phone that everyone wanted to have, the next phone they’d get, the phone they’d recommend to all their friends. From businessmen all the way down to kids at school this was the phone and nothing else would do. For those wondering just how big this is, no phone has ever managed such hype before and the closest we’ve gotten since is when the iPhone came along, with even that hype not living up to the hype that surrounded the 3510i.
I honestly believe that if the Nokia 3510i hadn’t been released at that price point, attracting so many people to try out technologies that had been kept for high-end models until then and opening the door for more competition in that space, that mobile technology wouldn’t have progressed as far as it has today and most people would still be buying phones based on how many ringtones they can download, and many of the features we take for granted would still only be in high-end models. And that is why I’m naming the Nokia 3510i as the most influential and important Phone Of The Decade.