The future of mobile

The Future of Mobile at MobOS. It probably won't be like an iPhone 4
The Future of Mobile at MobOS. It probably won’t be like an iPhone 4

I’m in Romania this week presenting a variety of speeches, including the keynote of MobOS entitled The future of mobile. It’s been a challenging speech to prepare for – and was considerably harder than I originally thought. Not least because in technology terms, “the future” means different things to different organisations. One organisation might think some future of mobile concept is way-out-there while another may have already been using it for a year.

I promised the audience to post the script of the keynote here…

I’m going to talk about four areas on the future of mobile – context, the number of devices we use, mobile user interfaces and the central hub concept. That will set some foundation for some ‘left field’ concepts that we have for the longer term future of mobile.

1. Context

The first generation of apps simply ported a web browser experience into an app. The second generation took advantage of the superior graphics – much like a thick client on a PC. We’re now on the third generation of apps, but too few of them take context into account. Context such as location, speed and other factors.

Location

As mobile developers you should be thinking of the different user experience you can give a user based on their location.

In retail, think of the in store experience and out of store. And what about when the user is at home?

One experience that Endava has worked on for three years now is sports. Users enjoy a totally different user experience at the event, during the event, compared to 100 kilometres away, or in a different country. At the event you want to know what’s happening, latest stats, latest video, and where the toilets are. Away from the event, the chances are you’re watching on TV, so we offer an enhanced experience.

We’re working on an app at the moment that provides driving directions, taking accident hotspots into account. So you can choose the fastest, shortest, or the safest route.

Combined with the above, you can start getting to other interesting areas of context.

Speed specific

How would you serve a user interface if the user was on a train, driving (e.g. don’t provide any notifications), walking, or lying down (loads of features)?

Concierge

Once you take the full context into account, you can start providing interesting concierge style experiences.

Concierge = Location + Speed + [other context]

The trick is to think more like a human expert in the environment and not Siri, which is a reactive model.

Mobile healthcare

We’ll soon be constantly monitoring everything. Which will make trend analysis available for the first time – i.e. during healthy and unwell periods of our lives.

Our apps will (or should) provide encouragement to do more exercise, and recommendations to prevent binge eating or even binge exercise, all tailored for us based on our health readings.

Implicit, invisible

In some ways this will make our mobiles less visible than they are today – they’ll be monitoring everything we do and how we move and how we breathe. Payments will become implicit, or invisible altogether, like Uber. So will the communications with other devices – what we call context. It will all automagically work together.

2. Multiple devices per user

My Samsung S6 is lovely, but big and expensive. For my outdoor pursuits I’d prefer a really low power, waterproof feature phone.

I worked at Sonera in the late 1990s. We foresaw a future of over 100% mobile penetration (more mobile contracts than people) – which is already here. In Romania there are 123 mobile connections per 100 citizens. In Hong Kong a staggering 240 mobile connections. There are currently 52 countries with more mobile connections than people.

We also foresaw multiple devices per connection – for example, users would have a small, good-looking device for socialising and an email device during the day. Perhaps, what’s developed is a smart watch and a smartphone is the 2015/6 equivalent? (Although with a smart watch the user still needs the large smart phone nearby).

In the future we’ll all have multiple devices per user. Fundamentally it’s the commercial answer for the handset manufacturers.

Multiple devices will need seamless portability. This real-time synchronisation will be key. Facebook does this really well, Twitter not so well, and email terribly.

Tethering

Another gripe with current devices is that they aren’t tethered. Why can’t I use the lens from the camera on my smartphone as the webcam for my laptop? Or the data storage on my laptop for my phone?

Identity

User identity will be key. When I turned on my Amazon Fire Stick for the first time last week, it knew I was Bradley Howard. That’s a smart user experience.

However, if your eBay rating is 2,000 at 100% and you register for AirBnB, your rating starts at zero.

3. Mini apps

Having separate apps is a rubbish user experience. Maybe it came from the desktop applications paradigm. Maybe it came from the books model – we read an atlas, or an encyclopaedia.

But now in 2016, apps should be much more integrated. According to Neilsen, users access an average of 26 apps per month.

Apple and Google saw this poor experience early on, and enabled a leap forward in user experience with notifications. Notifications are now interactive – you don’t need to open the app any longer. For instance, when a text message arrives on my device, I see the notification, and below is a button to reply. This opens a text box for me to write the response. At no point does the “text message app” open.

That was step 1.

Step 2 is the latest user interface design principle of cards. A card is the atomic unit of an app – the smallest individual bit of usefulness. Think of an app as a single update on your Facebook activity feed.

Another example of cards already in existence is if you book a hotel room in Google Maps.

The issue here is the commercialisation of cards – when there’s a descriptive NYT article in Twitter, who gets the revenue? Twitter. So why would NYT want to create a card and let Twitter use it?

What should mobile developers do?

API first

At Endava, when companies approach us to develop new platforms, rather than mobile-first we approach projects as API first. If you develop your platform as an API, all interfaces should become easier to implement – whether it’s the smart watch, the smart phone, Glass or the next big thing.

Then design the data model for the card, notification or app rather than start with the app visual interface design. My favourite phrase is “prepare to be worn” – if you got your data model correct, wearables will be easier to implement.

4. A central ‘hub’ device

Another approach to the future of mobile is that our device will become a single hub to replace anything with a screen. This is already happening.

  • For instance six months ago my Dad bought a new light for his fish tank that was fully configured by a smartphone using Bluetooth.
  • I got some Sengled speakers recently which are embedded in a lightbulb.
  • Your device will become a wallet substitute – with identity, payments and receipts all in one.

Where this gets more interesting is wrapping up everything we’ve discussed so far. Imagine you have this central hub as you sit in the driver’s seat of your friend’s car and put this device on the dashboard. The device turns into the control console of the car – heating, music system and so on. But it’s more than that – the hub now activates your insurance policy while you’re in the driver’s seat.

It might sound quite far-fetched, but we’re already at this point for television. Six weeks ago, Netflix launched their service here in Romania. Before then, TV services were fixed – not portable. Now, you can take your smartphone to another home, sit on the sofa and watch your Netflix subscription on someone else’s television. That was rocket science five years’ ago.

Security

Security still isn’t high enough priority for most developers. We need to think differently to prevent more data breaches like the children’s toy manufacturer VTech. Especially if our terabytes of our health data is going to be stored.

One approach is to make the lot of it open source. Make it visible – sort of like the Bitcoin blockchain, or payment companies like Venmo. You might want to anonymise the individual’s details, although Venmo makes the transaction fully public.

Another approach is to decentralise the data altogether and leave the data on the device. Let the user be responsible for backing up their data to a cloud. If it gets hacked, a single data record will have been compromised, not the 33 million accounts at Ashley Madison or 4.8 million children’s accounts on VTech.

At the present time, it’s astonishing how few mobile apps use two-factor authentication. You, as responsible developers, should all be requiring two factor authentication today. Use the Google Authenticator app, or a text message. Anything except a single, standard password.

What about these far out concepts for the Future of Mobile?…

So far we’re been talking about cool concepts, but they are about today, and the title of this presentation is “The Future of Mobile”. I’ll leave you with three things to think about in the future.

Thought control

Thought control is the future, not impersonal voice control
Thought control is the future, not impersonal voice control

Voice control is rubbish. Firstly, even in a common language it’s hard enough for humans to understand other humans let alone getting computers to understand us. Some people have clear speech and some of us mumble from one word to the next.

And voice control is so impersonal. I have used Windows 10 for a year now, but I don’t use the Cortana voice control because it would be a bit weird in the office calling out “concepts for the future of mobile”. It feels weird enough doing it in my home office all alone!

In the future we’ll be using telekinetic or thought control.

Doctors can already enable quadriplegic patients to control an arm using thought-control to feed themselves. At the moment this is achieved by injecting electrodes into the brain. These patients aren’t thinking back, forward, rotate – they are looking at an object and like us, they thinking about moving one object to a specific place.

Holograms and 3D

3D still feels very clunky, with special glasses a necessary peripheral to give the experience. And the problem with those glasses is that we become segregated from the outside world. A Princess Leah, Star Wars style hologram would enable us to use all the advantages that 3D provides, without the enclosed environment.

One of the reasons why mobile devices and their apps are so successful is that they can be used to fill a short wait, in a queue or on a short journey. We now use our mobile in that time period that we used to daydream. 3D headsets won’t fit that gap, or else we’ll all be falling off train platforms.

One more thought on holograms… just think about when those holograms start interacting with holograms from other people’s devices

Another left field entrant in the mobile war

History has shown us that when a technology or technology company become dominant, it’s all shaken up again. Think Microsoft PC, COBOL, Internet Explorer, VHS video tapes, Sony Walkman, and so on. The same will happen with the Apple iPhone and Android. A new entrant will emerge from nowhere and we’ll have a new set of standards, or platform to work with.

But that’s OK, because you’ll have designed your apps as API first.

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