Does adding images significantly change the nature of text or verbal communication?

Bob Goldstein recently asked me whether I thought adding images significantly changes the nature of text or verbal communication, and if so, how? His perceptive question prompted a very interesting dialogue on how our business and personal lives benefit from these wonderful new communication advances. I’ve decided to make this the first entry and introduction to my new blog, technically speaking, because it captures the excitement and possibilities of the emerging visual communications ecosystem, which I personally am thrilled to be part of. This blog is where I’ll keep you posted on my ideas and observations as it all unfolds.

BG: How is the role of the phone as a communication and information device changing with the addition of visual and expanded text capabilities?
Philippe Kahn: A picture is worth a thousand words…now with full motion, VideoMail may be worth a million words when it comes to communicating. Once you try it, you have to have it!

BG: What examples can you cite of businesses successfully using cameraphones to improve their business processes?
Philippe Kahn: I see it every day; simple day-to-day communications are much improved with the ability to blend images and full motion clips with voice clips. In some ways this is a simpler and more effective way to use e-mail or voicemail when on the go and wanting a personal touch to communications, or having to express complex concepts where visuals may make a big difference.

BG: What kinds of images are being captured – are they “disposable” or worth storing and integrating into an enterprise’s information infrastructure?
Philippe Kahn: It’s important to emphasize pictures, sound and video. So it is about multimedia. That is why MMS is so important. Like any form of user created content, some of it has no future relevance and some of it does. That one that has should be saved and archived.

BG: What kind of visual information is being sent to the mobile devices? Is the data sent primarily phone to phone or from nodes on the network?
Philippe Kahn: It is both. That’s because some users are in their cubicles and others are on the go, using their handsets.

BG: What trends do you see in the adoption patterns of cameraphones in the business environment? Is adoption driven from the bottom up, with individual knowledge workers taking the initiative and innovating on their own, or from the top down, where a corporate decision-maker has a vision for innovation?
Philippe Kahn: It’s a bit like the personal computer in the early days: driven by users and later embraced by IT.

BG: How has the expansion of the mobile device capability beyond voice to text and images changed your role in relation to business clients? Are you now more of an extension of corporate information networks?
Philippe Kahn: Our business is MMS solutions and services so the richer the media the more significant our relationship.

BG: How do you see video playing in the business market?
Philippe Kahn: Video is huge. That’s because in 15 seconds you can say and show a lot, yet it is very easy to put together and share with a very large group. Once you start using it, you understand how effective video is as a communications tool.

BG: How will mobile devices evolve?
Philippe Kahn: Convergence is happening and your handset will only get better at capturing, displaying and sharing information and managing all your messaging needs on the go.

BG: What about specialty devices for specific applications and markets?
Philippe Kahn: There will always be devices that are appropriate for certain markets like insurance, real-estate, land surveillance, law enforcement. That’s also true for personal computers and PDAs. However the general-purpose multimedia handsets are going to get better, better and better.

BG: How about in terms of enhanced capabilities?
Philippe Kahn: As convergence devices, you’ll have ones that can “see in the dark”, that are ruggedized, that can hear the almost inaudible, that can scan documents or act as pocket fax machines. The possibilities are infinite.

BG: And in terms of DRM and privacy issues?
Philippe Kahn: DRM is no different here than it is with MP3 players or personal computers. Good security and DRM is essential in providing a full healthy ecosystem, that allows for business success at all levels in the food chain.

BG: What about storage on devices and on servers, and quality of display?
Philippe Kahn: Multimedia by nature consumes storage space and powerful applications have a rich server side. So the future is for smart and synergistic device to network symbiotic partnerships for useful applications. All components of these converged devices are improving rapidly. That includes device and sound as well as the camera portion and all other components. The dynamism here is very important, as the cost of upgrading a device is minimal, unlike for example, with personal computers.

BG: Final thoughts on the effect of broadband access?
Philippe Kahn: Because the powerful applications are multimedia-based and involve a cooperative handset/server relationship, the better the wireless bandwidth, the better the solutions. It also goes to show that the improvements will continue in the decades to come.

These are just some of the issues that we have been working on at LightSurf recently. Come back and see what we’re up to as I will be posting new blog entries here on a regular basis.

The interview excerpts are from the upcoming book, GOING VISUAL, by Alexis Gerard and Bob Goldstein, to be published by John Wiley in February, 2005.