The Mobile Future – now, and then

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.Click to read me!

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).

Author, Tim Dunn.

I'm Director of Mobile at Roundarch Isobar. While I've specialised in mobile for over 13 years, I now work across broad digital marketing strategy, and am interested in interactions, UX, media and marketing theory, and innovation of almost any description. Click About Me for more and info and what this blog is about. Follow me on Twitter @timmcdunn or connect on LinkedIn

  1. Joel says:

    I think one of the first things to change would be the meaning behind the word ‘mobile’. I’ve read the 30k words and know that mobile largely relates to smartphones – I think revisiting this now, mobile would probably mean something closer to the user themselves, especially when we start to think about devices such as Google Glass, tablets, and Tim’s personal favourite Phablets – are these mobile? Is the user mobile? Is the smartphone the centre of the user’s cloud based accounts, or is it merely one of many devices to access content? And if that is the case, what does this mean to content and UX across these access points?

    Great post – good to see where others think mobile is heading. I know that watching Wilson Miner’s ‘When We Build’ talk has made me think about things quite differently –

    • Tim Dunn says:

      Yep – all good points, and the plurality of devices along with integration is key. I think that the ‘Convergence Model’ we use at Aegis sums it up in a very high-level way, but to really get to the bottom of various combinations of devices and contexts will be interesting

  2. Grant Cleveland says:

    Hi Tim
    Interesting points you raise, and its certainly disappointing to see how little things have progressed in many aspects of the mobile space.

    Widespread adoption of mobile devices for ‘banking’ ID credentials would be a huge innovation platform. The start of a new ecosystem for ‘connected devices’ of all kinds. As Dick pointed out, banks would be the logical place for providing this sort of capability. They stand to help shape the standards used and remain as a centrepiece of the customer experience.

    Perhaps Roundarch Isobar is in a position to lead a bank through this revolutionary thinking?


    • Tim Dunn says:

      Hi G,

      You’re right – I think all the work we’ve done over the years defining vision hasn’t paid off yet. However – is this about to change? I received a cryptic message from Dick the other day with a solitary link – I haven’t had time to plough into it yet but it seems like he has new plans!

      I guess the issue is that with the technology sector, every area is fought over by Apple, Google, Facebook etc, and identity requires collaborative creation and adoption of standards. I guess it’s part of the small-child mentality of these players that holds back the industry from creating such standards. Strange that is payments though, everyone is prepared to collaborate for mutual sector growth, even though their sector is just as cut-throat as tech competitively…

      Perhaps it’s this that means that even with people as brilliant as Dick working to crack the problem, we are no better on than 5 years ago…

      Either way, I still remember it was you who introduced me to Dick’s work, so thanks!

      Come visit – I’m all over the US and Toronto!


  3. Jenni says:

    For me (and this is completely selfish) I want to do away with all cords while I’m presenting. I know I’ll still need the power cords, but connections between computers, data projectors, mobile devices where the presentation resides etc, have got to go. It’s beginning to happen with some data projectors, so I hope it continues.

  4. Cameron Wall says:

    It is very hard to keep up with Mobile and tech in general. I switched from fixed Web tech to Mobile in 1999 and have suffered the “why can’t you see what I do” with organisations ever since.

    People have said when is the year of Mobile, I tell them its a decade event, Mobile has been around a lot longer then the Web. I must say 2013 is shaping up well.

    The software industry has almost completed a full circle in its cycle from shrink wrapped to Web based and back to native apps with the Web now serving the purpose of distribution platform.

    I funnel roughly on average 140 articles a day on Mobile only and read as many as I can, it’s a full time gig keeping up with what’s happening.

    I wish you well and thanks for the content.


  1. […] Dunn has just posted an interesting look back at the mobile future piece he wrote for the UK government in 2010. At 30,000 words the original […]

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