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Social networking: Are we there yet?

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Dave Oliver takes a look at the mobile social networking options to see if they’re what we want, or far from a perfect experience

You’d think that social networking would be a no-brainer for smart phones. With the ability to keep up to date with all your contacts anytime and all the time the obvious medium isn’t the computer, it’s the mobile phone. So how come manufacturers been so slow to make it easy and hassle-free?

Yes, you can get Facebook and Twitter apps for any modern smartphone OS, but you still have to open ’em up and check ’em to get your updates. Doesn’t it make much more sense to have them fed to you in a constantly updated stream?

Both Motorola and Sony Ericsson have made decent first efforts with their MotoBlur and Timescape systems respectively. They’re platform agnostic, and pull in your Facebook and Twitter updates as well as your text messages and emails and string them together so you always get your latest communications first.

But why aren’t all smartphones so enabled? Blackberry, Symbian, Apple, even the latest WinMo 7 don’t come with this capability as standard. It’s 2010 people, this should be happening now.

The Sony Ericsson X10 models and Motorola Milestones are Android handsets, and so have the option of widgets, those active little icons which update constantly with your latest communications.

But this functionality isn’t available from the Android Market, it needs to be built into the phone’s firmware. So basically, you either buy a phone that’s properly enabled for social networking or you don’t – it’s not something you can add later.

Facebook and Twitter may be ‘key brands’ and ‘buzz words’ for now, but does anybody feel any loyalty to them, or do they think of them in much the same way they think of Outlook – simply a communication tool.

Pulling social networking communications under one umbrella makes perfect sense, and should be inevitable.

The question isn’t why some are doing it this way, it’s why isn’t everyone doing it this way, or at least making it an option.

Not everyone will want it of course, constant connection can be a drain on your handset’s battery, and there may be a few who like to keep their updates separate, but wouldn’t every handset be that little bit more desirable if it was possible?

Market research group eMarketer forecasts that over 800 million people around the world will be using at least one social network on their mobile phones by 2012 – a very big leap from 82 million in 2007.

So making interaction via phone isn’t just desirable, it’s essential for manufacturers to at least try to keep up with the curve (let alone ahead of it) over the next few years.

Social networking should be a perfect fit for mobile phones, but it’s a relationship both partners will have to keep working on.

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