The next five years of mobile will revolutionise not only how we communicate, but also, how we connect with the world. It’s important to understand the term mobility; in its current form it simply states “the condition of being mobile”, and so far, this is something the marketing and technology sectors have struggled with.
In the future, it will no longer be limited to “mobility” alone, but will evolve into “connectivity”. Devices are set to empower how we as individuals communicate with technology, and ultimately, the world around us. In this piece, I want to look forward and discuss openly how mobile services and devices could, can and will evolve in the coming years. I will also discuss how mobility as a term is no longer enough, and how it has the possibility to evolve into “connected mobility” or “connected computing”.
Apple’s recent move in iOS6 signifies a unified ecosystem, and there is much to admire about its cloud integration and universal access across all of its devices. Tablets, mobiles and desktops are already integrating, and our strategy as marketers, technology creators or product developers needs to mirror this. This means adapting to a singular, universal digital ecosystem, to encompass “connective mobility”, including the online world and other digital access points such as IPTV and new computing forms in future.
Looking to the future
How we build products for mobile and online is already evolving, but it’s important to already be looking to the future. HTML5 as a coding standard is redefining how we build and construct products. Wireframes will soon become the norm, which will pave the way for a singular execution across devices and platforms. With the growth of cloud-based environments, future products need to adapt to their environments from a singular coding base. The benefits are not only cost effective, but will also allow for faster routes to market, unified tracking, and a singular digital strategy.
But what will devices look like in the in the next few years? Today’s high-end mobile features will become commonplace – technologies which can be found in top-end phones will migrate into lower-end phones as the cost of components comes down through scale. So features such as GPS (for location); accelerometers (measure the rate of change of velocity); gyroscopes (for measuring or maintaining orientation); magnetometers (to measure the strength or direction of magnetic fields); Near Field Communications (NFC, for payment and communication); and high-resolution displays, will become commonplace and available at a fraction of the current cost, allowing for their uptake in the mass-market environment.
Innovation and disruption
We need to start looking at our mobile handsets as computers, and assess how the possibilities of next-generation computing forms will affect mobile devices and handsets. New computing forms offer the potential both for innovation and for disruption. As with any new technology, however, these will impact the digital-savvy first, before slowly filtering into the mass market. Understanding this is crucial for future product strategies and roadmaps.
The first form to consider is what can be loosely termed as a “wearable device” or “wearable device extensions”. We can already see the first iterations of this kind of product in the marketplace. An example is Nike + utilising chips in both wristbands and trainers, allowing device connection from an external sensor back into a mobile handset to process and visualise the information. A more forward-thinking example is HUD or “Heads-up Display” contact lenses in development at the University of Washington. The HUD contact lens is a future-thinking computing device allowing you to relay your mobile or computing experience across contact lenses. This may sound far off, but has been in development for quite a while. Google’s Project Glass also falls into this camp.
Another future form factor to consider in terms of mobile interactivity and a future computing form is the development of surfaces. Surfaces have the ability to bend how we currently think about interactivity and engagement points, extending real-world experiences into the digital and virtual worlds. Examples include large interactive displays that incorporate NFC, QR codes, gesture- or voice-control, multi-touch points, or even facial recognition or other input mechanisms. There are already great examples of these around today, with one of my favourites being the virtual storefronts that Tesco used in Korea to grow its presence there, but other usage cases such as interactive screens in education, stores and other public places are starting to be seen.
So with computing forms advancing, what else is next for mobile devices and handsets? How we access devices is already advancing phenomenally, but motion, voice, and touch are starting to redefine the user interface. Improved display technologies are already coming, and the use of motion sensors (with simplified development in future) will shift the control of mobile phones from touch to motion and voice. In the near term, the responsiveness of touchscreens will improve. But looking ahead to the future, the phone will be controlled evermore by voice, gestures, motion, sensors, pressure or wearable extensions.
As access methods and interactivity increase, so does the opportunity for new device sensors. They have the ability to reveal more about the user’s environment than ever before. Think I’m crazy? Well think again. Application and business cases change, and the features and functionality will change accordingly, to reflect this. Some of the potential future features could include chemical sensors, barometers and micro-bolometers (for temperature recognition) as well as other high-tech gizmos. Mobiles will also act as modems, relaying or interpreting information from other machines or from interactions with sensors. They will offer new information ranging from a consumer’s altitude, speed, temperature, and presence of relative lightness or darkness, to their orientation to the North Pole or gravity.
A future built around new connectivity, sensors, wearables, engagement points, understanding of a consumer’s environment and the ability to relay this information back at every touch is already upon us. If a device acts as a modem, it will become our digital fingerprint and provide full “connected mobility”. We will be recognised by our connected devices and the data can be used across multiple touchpoints with digital ecosystems.
Minority Report may turn out to be not a work of fiction, but a new reality, realised by our connected devices. Data is the future, and with devices set to expand into all elements of our lives, the mobile handset will be key in revolutionising future services, products, engagement and our reality, in both the digital and physical worlds.
Mark-Anthony Baker is a director and head of strategy at Fetch