In Feb 2010, I was commissioned by the UK Government to write an extensive paper on the ‘Future of Mobile’. The piece was targeted at three areas of e-Government – NHS Choices, Directgov and Business Link, each of whom had at that point made some excellent early strides into providing service to mobile users.
Having won the job, I then set about wondering how to deliver it. I started by interviewing a huge number of people from across the mobile landscape – OEMs, carriers, media owners etc, to uncover as many different perspectives as possible. Then I created a draft, and over the course of two weeks (my kids were abroad at the time or it would have been quite impossible!) wrote up the detail in over 30,000 words.
Although I was pretty pleased with my first strides into quasi-academia (most of my relatives are lecturers or professors in the US, so there were wry smiles and ribbing about the family ‘business guy’ finally poring over sources and footnotes like the rest of us), I sometimes think back to what could have been. There’s the inevitable cringe or smirk at some of the gauche assumptions, and occasionally I feel a bit like I do watching visions of the future from early Star Trek or Lost In Space.
Of course, whenever you look back over old work, particularly future-gazing work, you find it riddled with holes. I find the piece now quite lacking in my normal vituperative dismissal, and equivocal of fading mobile players, it’s very light on media and social, doesn’t mention Twitter or second-screen (much), doesn’t deliver all that much on consumer insights, and so on.
On the positive side though, it gave me a frame of reference and set of core thinking that would go to feed my day job client work, and teaching practice, for some time to come. And of course, around 1/3 of my predictions came to pass within the first 9 months from writing…
But what would happen if I had to write this piece again today?
The ‘future of mobile’, if there is one, is much less clear now than it was then. I feel right now that mobile is struggling to find new innovations, and this is nowhere more clear than at Apple, as I wrote (or occasionally ranted) at the launch of the iPhone 5.
So is mobile now at a point of maturity where there’s nothing much more to come? Right now I think we are all pretty much aware that you can shop, view ads, book flights, play games, receive messages, make payments, watch TV etc with your mobile.
But are we really just polishing the smartphone model, to make it slightly bigger, and slightly faster? 4G and 5” screens are all very well, but they don’t make your head spin with excitement, and it’s partially this that is driving my work these days towards broader digital strategy and marketing theory.
If pushed, though, what might be some of the key trends for the Future of Mobile 2013 be, beyond merely bigger, faster, more?
I welcome your ideas below the line, but as a starter for 10, perhaps we would be looking at:
- Natural interfaces – the growth of new intuitive ways to control the device, such as eye-scrolling and gesture recognition
- Socio-economic dimorphism of mobile adoption and behavior based on geography and class. Will we see 4G simply extend and deepen the rural ‘not-spots’ we already see in broadband coverage? And will open OS smartphones truly enable digital participation regardless of earnings?
- ID – I really don’t think we’ve scratched the surface of this. Smartphones should be able to carry secure and inviolable credentials such as passports and driving licences, but I don’t see much work in the field. Also, we should surely be able to scan or verify ID without the need for peripherals such as Square? Surely mobile will be able to deliver the vision of people like Dick Hardt as shown in this bravura performance from 2006
- Enterprise – at Roundarch Isobar we do huge amounts of work in the Enterprise space that would be mind-boggling to my European colleagues. But I still think there’s a long way to go in B2B and B2E, specifically with BYOD in mind. Microsoft guys such as Matt Ballantine are providing leading thinking in this space
- Location – this might seem like an old chestnut now, but the fact that mobile is, well, mobile, has not been mined to anything like its full potential. The capabilities have been very much held back by lack of physical infrastructure and lack of standardization, but payment and vouchering should now be on the up as business gears up to match consumer behavior in the converged world.
- Connected Devices – with the smartphone packing the same processing power that a mainframe could deliver not so long ago, your phone is likely to be the center of your own local cloud services before long with anything from your watch to your soccer team to (whisper it) your fridge hanging off it for processing power and network functions
Let me know what you think and I hope you enjoy The Future of Mobile Technology (from the past).