What Does It Take To Be A Mobile City?
By Mike Masnick, Tue Oct 19 23:15:00 GMT 2004

A city in Austria has thrown together a few mobile phone applications and declared itself the world's first "mobile city." Is that all it takes? Actually, it takes even less.


The city of Bregenz, in the western Austrian province of Voralberg, is claiming the honors of being the first mobile city, with the official naming ceremony being held by local mobile operator mobilkom Austria, who is out promoting the news. So what does it take to become a mobile city? Apparently four simple mobile phone-based applications, many of which are likely to already be available in a city near you.

First, there's mobile parking. Paying for your parking over your phone isn't necessarily a new application. Plenty of cities have had similar applications for years. Still, if it makes it easier for people to come into the downtown areas and spend money, that's likely to be good news for a city trying to promote more business. However, to really be a mobile city, things have to go a step beyond just parking. What happens after you get out of the car?

The second app is mobile shopping, which is even less innovative than mobile parking. Mobile shopping portals have been around for ages, and this one offers nothing new. It uses WAP and SMS, just like almost every other first generation mobile shopping offering. Even worse, unlike the parking application, this does little to encourage more spending downtown. It actually does the opposite by encouraging people to stay away from downtown shops and just order things via WAP.

The third app is mobile ticketing for shows. Again, not particularly new, though it does encourage people to spend some time in the city again. The final app is a mobile information system, to provide local information about the city. However, even that is fairly simplistic, giving out information about local events or festivals, and not going anywhere near the depth that it could, by providing tour guide information or by letting everyone add their own input about various spots in the city.

Still, while it is a good thing to see a more concerted effort at a variety of applications for city-dwellers and city-goers, this does raise the question of what really makes a mobile city? Considering the mobile penetration around the world, many, many cities could make a credible claim that they're mobile cities -- it's just that the city itself may not have paid for the specific applications being offered. While applications like mobile parking and city info should be provided by the cities, the other applications seem like ones that can (and usually are) be provided by private organizations who stand to benefit from them. The truly mobile city is simply one that offers wireless services and ways for everyone to make use of them -- in which case, the vast majority of cities around the world already are "mobile cities."