I forgot my razor.
And by razor, I don’t mean a Motorola RAZR, the now Jurassic ‘flippity’ phone from Motorola in 2004 (I never owned one). I forgot a shaving razor, and I was now officially nestled inside the compound of the JW Hilton Hotel, smack dab in the middle of Mickey’s real wild kingdom – Orlando. I was in a Homo-Sapien-manufactured floating oasis surrounded on one side by the Grand Lakes (likely filled with revenous prehistoric gators, or at least Walt-influenced animatronic versions), another side by lush golf courses (filled with hungry prehistoric golfers…or at least Walt-influenced animatronic versions) and on the other two sides by miles of sprawling Disney highways, carbon-copy houses and venomous marshland.
I stumbled through the hotel with my backpack, freshly-pressed suit and suitcase filled with enough electronics, shampoo and styling liquids that two years ago would have put me in a prison cell at the local airport. The location of the 2011 PRSA International Conference was a veritable oasis amid the surrounding arid quagmire and if required, my now four-day-old beard growth would either have to do, or I would be forced to trek a mile in both directions to locate a drug store filled with the necessities that you simply couldn’t find on my new artificial campus for the next four days and three nights – outside of the manufactured and pristine womb of the hotel into the void of reality…
I was in Orlando to perform my song and dance about mobile technology – a presentation that was several months in the making. The trouble with speaking about a volatile subject like mobile technology is that by the time you’ve completed any draft of the presentation, some tablet or phone maker has dropped another law suit on another tablet or phone maker, rendering research not only suspect, but shifting the point of your presentation in an entirely different direction.
As smart mobile devices grow in global ubiquity, the two 800lb animatronic apes in the room (iOS and Android) have become increasingly similar on the surface. So similar in fact, that while Apple pioneered the organic inertia-guided sliding grid structure now associated with touch-screen smartphones, Android has based their overall touchy/slippery UI on the same structure – at times – right down to the curved buttons used to launch applications. Apple recently parried by stealing the sliding “Notification Center” for iOS 5 from Android. Watching these two companies fight over who can steal and subsequently spend heaps of money to sue and counter-sue each other is like observing two rodents fighting over a foam cheesehead hat. Neither understands that the prize they seek will effectively nourish either foe in the long run.
Some manufacturers have tried originality (Nokia 7600, anyone?) and failed – not just because the location of UI elements could probably cause arthritis, but because the masses have grown increasingly comfortable with conformity and less interested in the originator of the project or aesthetic providing they can have something reasonably similar and affordable. There will always be loyalists in either camp, but the truth is if you stand back and squint, a Motorola Droid 2 looks just like an iPhone, but at a significantly cheaper cost. You can do the same with the surge of tablets that have flooded the market. Once the Android system actually works with as much charm and stability as the iOS counterpart, why would someone pay for either an iPad or iPhone? While quality and aesthetic might be thrown around in that debate, the truth is, the majority of people don’t care as much as you think about this stuff. They care about feeding their family, and if the best way to get what the cool kids have is to buy a knockoff, they will.
Sadly, it’s becoming difficult to tell the difference between the two Kongs, with both operating systems vying to be King but losing sight of the innovative spirit that spawned the original. Microsoft thought out of the box, and while I don’t anticipate that the Windows 7 phone will make a dent in either global Android dominance or iOS subtle innovation, they certainly created something that was uniquely different from the competition.
With all of that said, here’s what I do know…
Walgreens is not a trek to be made in fancy speaking boots and jeans at 5pm in Orlando.
But that trek was exactly the challenge I took upon myself a few hours after arrival. This area wasn’t made for a New Yorker – used to subways, non-animatronic oversized rodents, and proper cross-walks between sprawling highways. After walking about a mile to the nearest drug store (as seen in the above map) in a suit jacket (wardrobe FAIL), I discovered that the 6 lane highway that I needed to cross, had no cross-walks. A daunting highway flaw in my opinion, and once I realized that the majority of actual travel in the town that Mickey built, is done in air conditioned ozone depleting vehicles – my Frogger skills kicked in and I lept across the highway in a heart pounding and perspiration-inducing trot faster than you could say, “Hi-diddle-dee-dee.” Once inside the drug store, I gathered my necessary bounty and waded through vicious locust swarms, swamps and skunk ape traps back to my hotel, settling down with wet shoes and a soggy disposition at the lobby watering hole for some locally brewed beer and sushi.
The next morning, attendees of the PRSA International Conference were treated to the double play of CNN’s Soledad O’Brien’s tales of news storytelling and Dr. Peter Diamandis’ musings about space travel and prizes. Other bloggers surely have covered both Keynotes ad nauseum, so I won’t bore you with my personal opinions on either of their presentations other than they were both delivered with professionalism and wit. Not many people know that The Mechanism designed two versions of The X Prize online – leading right up to Burt Rutan’s SpaceShipOne prize-winning flight on October 4, 2004. It was good to spend a few choice moments reminiscing with the good Doctor after his talk, and one of the reasons I wanted to be at the conference this year.
In preparation for my talk “Maximizing Your Mobile Mojo: Making the Most of the Portable Web,” I poured over years of data, deciding that individual data points are merely points that we need to connect. Surprisingly every time I settled on one bit of data or another, I would be sideswiped with some new finding or data that contradicted everything that I had already learned, in other words, this industry is moving faster than Kali River Rapids, so if you want to take a snooze, you’ll likely lose.
I’ll likely prepare a more glorified recap of my dog and pony show as we draw closer to my next one, which at the time of this writing looks to be for the PRSA Greater Fort Lauderdale Chapter in mid-January. Thanks to Kenneth Ma for the gracious invitation. I’m truly looking forward to it.
I’ll leave you with a fact that you might not know. You can’t buy gum in the Orlando airport. Anywhere. Look for it next time you are there, as the terminal has more places to buy artificial reproductions of mouse memorabilia than most malls. If you’re caught chomping on it, expect to be brutally assaulted by the ambassador of Orlando, Sir Mouse himself – or perhaps an animatronic version. The kids don’t care, as long as he’s big, smiley and has a pair of those silly red underpants with giant buttons pulled up to his armpits.
We’ve become accustomed to accepting pale imitations of originals. Me – I’ll take a floppy shoe-wearing furry genetically-altered rodent with red shorts and a dopey friend named Goofy over the foul hordes that hungrily size me up on the subway platform every night on my trip home from The Mechanism’s NYC Creative Bunker.
But, who really knows the difference anymore?
Dave Fletcher is the Founding Partner of The Mechanism, a brand-focused digital agency with offices in New York, London and South Africa. He wants to thank Albert Chau, the photographer who sent over the photographs from the 2011 PRSA Conference and the fine staff of PRSA for a grand old time in Orlando. Dave carries an Android phone with him wherever he goes because he’s disappointed that an iPhone5 hasn’t been released yet. The good news is his 2-year old son knows an original from a shameless copy. He won’t touch a Droid for his long excursions into Angry Birdland. He’s an iPhone man all the way. Hope springs eternal…