The Future of Mobile – Part 1
If you had told me ten years ago that my kids would almost always have a second screen in their hands whenever they watched television, I would have laughed. Now I assume that if there’s no screen in their hands, it’s because the battery ran out of juice.
So if we flip the calendar ahead another ten years, what should we expect?
Please Note: These are not my kids, but I see basically the same thing when I look at my living room couch.
Let’s define mobile and what it solves.
First things first, we need to talk about what mobile really means. As I look ahead, I’m considering “mobile” to be any technology that you comfortably carry on your body and provides functionality without needing a physical connection. So a laptop or tablet computer is not a mobile device for me because you can’t “comfortably carry it on your body.” If the trend with bigger and bigger smartphones continues, we may find ourselves struggling for a better way to define mobile.
One more point before we stare into the mobile crystal ball. We need to talk about what problem mobile actually solves. I used to think mobile technologies primarily had value for users who are on the move. The reality is mobile technologies have value whenever the user can benefit from another information channel. That may sound like a strange definition of value, but think about my kids with phones and tablets while they are watching TV. Whether they are texting friends or watching YouTube during commercials, they have the capacity to handle more communication and information (and I think they actually feel a little bored without this input). And this is really the key point for the rest of my predictions – I fundamentally believe that in ten years we will have much more information flowing to and from every individual and mobile is what will make that happen.
Mobility is more than just a device.
So in ten years, mobile will not be limited to screens. Today, I think people tend to equate mobile with a device that has a visual display. We think of mobile devices as something you hold in your hands. We have started to see different form factors with Google Glass and smart watches that act as companions to phones. In ten years, I expect most people to have multiple mobile devices on them both to collect more data and to enable more channels of information back to the user.
Assuming that devices keep getting lighter and smaller, it’s going to make sense to gather more data from around the body. Today, a lot can be learned from simple motion sensing device like a FitBit. In a world where more and more machine intelligence will be applied to understanding your current state and providing tuned recommendations and assistance to you, having more data collection on your current state will be valuable. As just one example, consider having enough devices on you that your whole posture can be sensed. Not only could you get quick feedback about better posture, but a helpful health system could better understand your “energy” level throughout the day.
Mobility will continue to engage more senses.
So what about having more devices to open up more channels for receiving information? Today, phones communicate via the screen and the speakers. They can vibrate to alert you, but for the most part, you need to pay attention to watching or listening to your mobile device. With more and more information to deal with all the time, I think that we’re going to need to come up with ways to get signals into the brain without compromising the current two primary senses (sight and sound). I foresee many people having haptic technologies on their bodies. These technologies stimulate the sense of touch. What’s really cool is that a patch of skin can become something like a “third eye.” While this “eye” won’t have the resolution of normal vision, this could be an ideal channel to provide you information that doesn’t have to be processed extremely quickly or granularly. As a practical example, consider a stock trader who is “seeing” trending of underlying financial signals through the skin on her back while her eyes are watching fast-moving stock data.
This future of many mobile devices scattered across the bodies of people has some repercussions. Check back for part two of this post to explore that part of the story.