The Rise of Mobility : And The Disappearing Mobile Phone (Part 2)

The Era Of Inter-Connectivity Arrives

(This post follows on from The Rise Of Mobility – Part 1)

In 2012 we’re firmly in the era of Digital Inter-Connectivity. With devices now interconnecting with each other, either locally (e.g. bluetooth speakers streaming spotify from a phone or apple TV interacting with an iPad) or synchronised through the cloud (e.g. the wordpress apps that I use for this blog synchronising in real-time across two mobiles, an iPad and my desktop).

In addition, much digital functionality that was previously purchased stand-alone, in separate devices, is converging in a single mobile device (note: at least for now, see my next post). Where many people would once carry around a plethora of devices (a phone, a camera, a Satellite Navigation system,  a Walkman music player, a portable games console, a PDA etc) most of us now carry just one.  Our Smartphone.

The original 1999 chart is below and blogged about here:

An updated chart for 2012, including the rise of the mobile device, now looks something like this ( the original 1999 powerpoint updated):

Compared to the 1999 map,connected functionality in 2012 has gravitated towards the (mobile) center.

This convergence and inter-connectivity, has roughly coincided with the rise of web 2.0 and social media. As connectivity has become always on and always with us, so our digital personas have become always available and always present, turbo charging the social aspects of the web. I’m looking forward to covering this more in future posts.

As I’ve noted previouslyconnectivity is generally proliferating. Going forward, yet more devices will become internet connected as our lives continue the shift to the digitally connected. For example, the latest pocket cameras incorporate mobile Operating Systems and WiFi connectivity. Games consoles are becoming internet connected content terminals.

As miniturisation continues, more diverse functions will become mobile connected. For example, in what was once a highly specialist sector, the healthcare industry is seeing functionality such as medical scanning and monitoring become internet connected and enabled for the masses. Many of these functions are starting to become mHealth attributes of consumer mobile devices encouraging a cultural trend toward “DIY health”. Not surprisingly, companies focusing on solutions with the “m” prefix, such as mHealth, mGovernment, mCommerce and mEducation are in hot technology start-up areas – especially given the huge numbers of people worldwide who are about to be connected for the first time – which leads us to the next item.

Next? Smart Mobility for the Global Masses

This phase of inter-connectivity will finally bring ubiquitous availability of affordable internet enabled mobile devices to pretty much everyone.  By the end of this decade, 80%-90% of the worlds adult population will become connected to the internet via mobile devices.

In 2008 & 2009 the first Google Android OS handsets appeared, hailing the start of the mass global adoption of these converged mobile devices. The Android OS has been specifically developed to drive mass adoption. As it’s an Open Source and free-license Operating System, manufacturers can drive down prices to deliver truly affordable Smart Mobile Devices for US$20 or less.

Update: The chart below from Business Intelligence shows how rapidly smartphone adoption is accelerating between 2011 and 2012 alone. Look at Brazil and China, both going from almost zero smart Phones in 2011 to 14% and 33% respectively in 2012.

With “dumb” Mobile Phones already in the hands of six Billion people (as at the end of 2011) – and with cheap smart phones on the way – it’s easy to see that by the end of this decade the vast majority of the worlds population will become mobile internet connected.

Unlike the people who first became connected back in the 1990’s, the “newly connected” will start their digital lives mobile (in the center of the map). Mobile connectivity will then be augmented by additional connectivity as they gradually acquire and/or interact with other connected devices.

This the polar opposite of the PC centric adoption pattern for the “initially connected” in more developed countries – and is likely to exacerbate misconceptions that many internet companies have regarding the rise of mobile.

For me, an issue of our time is that this global digital connection of the masses can have a profoundly positive impact on our development as individuals and as a global society.  Hopefully we can realise this potential.  

Global access to knowledge will certainly radically change access to opportunities for billions of people.  There are also many challenges, not least the fact that there are innate incentives for elements of the internet to start to commoditise and commercialise the identities of all of its users (that includes you and me). This is a concept that governments, internet governance bodies and human rights groups are only now starting to grapple with.  

I’ll cover some of these issues in more detail in upcoming posts.

Next up: intra-connectivity and the coming disappearance of the mobile phone (yes seriously!).

The Rise of Mobility : And The Disappearing Mobile Phone (Part 1)

The Rise Of Mobile

I recently rediscovered a chart mapping digital interactivity that I created over a decade ago.  Back then we called it the “Multiple Digital Channel” Map.

I thought it might be interesting to dust it off and re-map it against where we are now, 13 years later. Drawing from a point in the past (1999) to where we are now – and continuing this line into the future – we get a rough idea about where we might be headed in the next 10-15 years.

It gives us three eras in the rise of connected mobility.  I’ve called them: extra-connectivity (without), inter-connectivity (between) and itra-connectivity (within).  Read on and see why.

The Digital Channel Map 1999 : Extra-Connectivity

Multiple Digital Channels

Way back in 1999, along with a few other lucky people, I was part of a mobile research and futurist team at Agency.com. Back then, just before the dot.com crash, it was a world leading interactive design agency.

We’d seen Internet adoption rise incredibly fast in the late 90’s in developed countries. A rapid evolution in the way that we all communicate was clearly underway.  Our task was to advise clients such as British Airways, Orange, General Motors and T-Mobile about what might be coming next.

Client teams in the London office, where we were based, were working on a range of new interactive “channels” including: early interactive TV on Satellite and Cable TV platforms (now the “red” button on UK remotes), and early stage mobile Internet technology, including WAP portals.  We came up with the term “Multiple Digital Channels” to describe the way that we believed the Internet would be accessed via different digital touch-points as  everything became connected.

To provide some context, at the time, the Nokia 7110 was the first consumer WAP phone, with very simple and very slow mobile web browsing.  None-the-less, the sight of pre-launch versions in the hands of Nokia employees at industry conferences was enough to cause gasps of wonder (and stifled envy).

Why the wonder?  We’ll, it was becoming clear that mobile devices would soon be a principle “digital connector”, capable of moving to and between all of the other other digital devices and Internet touch points in our lives;  the deliverer of ubiquitous attachment to the grid; to information, knowledge and each other.

The Map

So, in 1999 I attempted to chart future interactivity between digital devices on a chart (see below).   It maps the state of play, in 1999, for digitally connected devices and what we could now call the “initially connected” people who used them. Back then devices were still “extra-connected” i.e. connected to the web but not to each other (with the exception of the PDA). Almost all access was via a PC.

We expected, in 1999, that the items in grey would become internet connected in the next decade.  The items in black were considered either available, or imminent arrivals as concept models were being demonstrated (not a guarantee of a product launch though, as we’ll see!).   Items at the edge on the diagram were viewed as being static (e.g. a fridge).  Items in the middle, mobile, the ultimate being a “mobile” phone – which we figured would start to interconnect with all the other devices as it was the one device that was personal and could be carried everywhere.

Looking at it now, it still provides a very good framework for where we are now, 13 years later.  However, in terms of forecasting, we did miss a few things.

What we got wrong?

1) NEW DEVICES AND STUFF THAT DIDN’T GET CONNECTED (YET)

Some devices have evolved.  Others simply haven’t become connected for the mass market yet. For example:

  • Tablets such as the iPad didn’t exist (outside of the movies)
  • Fixed Phones evolving to become video enabled internet terminals (an imagined mix of Minitel and the Space Odyssey video phone) simply never took off, while Pay phones continue to disappear.
  • Connected “white goods” have yet to become widely available  (e.g. the “Net Fridge” which is still “coming soon” )
  • Gaming Consoles  (think xBox, PS2 etc) and connected TV’s are now arriving in earnest in 2012.
  • In Car Entertainment is still on-it’s-way (ahem)
  • In-flight WiFi is now finally gaining popularity and I understand that the next generation of In Flight Entertainment (IFE)  is likely to involve WiFi & internet enabled tablets.
  • As for Music players and Cameras? Well, see point 3 below.

2) THE SLOW ARRIVAL OF MOBILE BROADBAND  (OR: “IMAGINING THE FUTURE IS EASY, THE HARD PART IS MAKING IT HAPPEN”)

The second thing that we didn’t foresee (and which is obvious in hindsight) was the slow arrival of  the supporting infrastructure (3G) to enable all of this to happen.   In early 2000 we provided mobile content consultancy to Orange Telecom.  Their Network Engineering team briefed us that  90% of the UK population would have mobile broadband (3G) coverage by the end of 2002 – mid-2003, worst case.  Today in 2012, ten years later, delivery of ubiquitous mobile broadband coverage is still a contentious issue.

All of this is hardly surprising.  Networks cost billions of dollars to purchase and years to roll out.  It’s not a trivial endeavor to bathe billions of people in wireless broadband coverage.  On the plus side we’re now passing the tipping point and approaching mass global population coverage for mobile data. This is a big, big deal and I’ll come back to it in a minute to explain why.

3) DEVICE CONVERGENCE (MOBILE MANGE TOUT)

Finally, for me, the biggest thing we missed is the shift from a plethora of separate specialised digital devices to a convergence of functionalities on a single device – the mobile/cell phone.   As well as interacting with other connected devices, the last decade has seen the mobile “phone” gobbling up, adopting and absorbing multiple attributes of other devices.  Through the 2000’s this new mobile device has merged with and mastered:

  • The PDA: replacing the Palm Pilot (launched 1997) and the iPaq (1998)
  • Music Players: The first portable MP3 player, Creative’s DAP launched at the same time as Siemens first mobile with an MP3 player (both in 2001)
  • Cameras: Gradually appeared and improved from Sharp & Kyocera (1997) to Nokia’s first true camera replacement (2002). Meanwhile, cameras are only now starting to become internet connected 0 see Samsung pic below (launched last month).
  • e-mail and messaging: RIM Blackberry 5810 (launched 2002)
  • Gaming devices: Nokia N-Gage (2003)

Through most of the 2000’s the industry slowly bundled all of these attributes together in a wide variety of weird and wonderful form factors through multiple iterations.  The arrival of the iPhone, and crucially the App Store, from Apple in 2007/2008, although not adding anything “new” in terms of functionally, finally brought all this together (device, connectivity, functionality, content ecosystem)  in a user friendly way. One single device designed holistically rather than as separate bolt-on elements. Enter the era of device “Inter-Connectivity”

Tomorrow On Monday I’ll post the map updated for 2012, showing today’s world of  “InterConnectivity”.

 

Beyond Mobile And Multi-Screens: What’s Next?

Right this second, you’re more connected than any other human before you. Thousands of people, facts, thoughts and things become accessible to you as you read each of these words.

Big deal? Well, I guess we’re all aware that we’re living through an era loosely termed as the “Information Age“.

Each day sees a plethora of different articles and posts published which, in equal measures, document and examine, celebrate and angst about the possible cultural, social and political changes that we’re possibly about to experience.

Well, I recently rediscovered a chart that I created back in 1999 with the intention of mapping the rise of our emerging digital interactivity. With a little updating, it helps to break through the clutter and provide us with a rough “you are here” view (I’ll post more about the “Multiple Digital Channel” map in the next couple of days).

Looking at it again now we can also get an idea of where we’ll probably be in another 15 years.  It looks like we’re just about at the “end-of-the-beginning”. And there’s much more to come.

The Three Phases Of Connecting:

There are 3 broad phases in the rise of our ongoing connectedness:

1. Where We’ve Been: Extra-connecting (1990 to early 2000’s). Think:

  • desktop computers & early laptops connect to the internet individually as “extra” add-on functionality via dial-up modems and early broadband
  • computer use is primarily corporate and initially immobile (desktops and servers)
  • 1st & 2nd Generation mobile phones move from being corporate productivity tools to become consumer communication devices
  • emergence of early mobile computers: PDA’s (Personal Data Assistants)
  • e-mail and Instant Messaging becoming pervasive at work and home

2. Where We Are: Inter-connecting (early 2000’s to mid-2010’s). Think:

  • Internet connectivity starts to be viewed as a utility 
  • Inter-connectivity of devices gradually becomes pervasive (multiple screens)
  • personal device (phone) form & functionality goes through rapid evolution, settling on a single large rectangular screen form factor (content is king)
  • smarter devices start to interact – enabling mass social interaction (Social Media)
  • everyone becomes connected: being always-on, connected and available is the expected norm
  • more peripheral electronics (white goods, TV’s) start to become extra and inter-connected

3. Where We’re Going: Intra-connecting (mid-2010’s to 2030 and beyond). Think:

  • persistent ambient connectivity – where we are seamlessly and deeply intra-connected within our environment and with others when we choose to be (we hope)
  • devices become more personal and proliferate:
    • devices become wearable e.g. screens in spectacles evolve into contact lens screens
    • bio-implant devices gradually become acceptable:
      • initially for health monitoring and maintenance (e.g. blood sugar & blood pressure: monitoring, analysis, alerts, preemptive advice)
      • then increasingly to enhance performance (e.g. memory,  well being  analysissituation awareness etc.)
  • the Internet of Things – everything becomes connected, tagged and recognisable:

These three phases are far from finite. They’re a work in progress. They flow into each other organically as people adopt and discard new behaviours, in turn further evolving the underlying technology.

“The future is already here – it’s just not very evenly distributed” – William Gibson

Importantly, access to these technologies and new capabilities depends on your culture, context and access to cash. If we truly believe in creating a meritocratic world where everybody has an equal chance to progress, concerns regarding a growing global digital divide will also need to be addressed.

“If you understood everything I said, you’d be me”

― Miles Davis

For many, a greater concern will be the ways in which our sense of self and identity evolve as social pressure grows to be perpetually connected and visible to the “hive“.

Viewed together, the changes will doubtless be profound. Yet as we live through them, what once seemed like science fiction very quickly becomes normal and even unremarkable. How cool is e-mail these days?

“We know what we are, but not what we may be.” 
― William Shakespeare

Knowing as we do, in very broad terms, what’s coming, we might just have a rare and, as a race, unique opportunity to get ahead of ourselves.

I’ll be exploring and expanding on this theme with posts in the next few weeks – and will update this post with cross links as I do so.

If you have any thoughts please feel free to share.

Is A Facebook Friend A Friend?

Jeff Pulver (exec-producer for Twittamentary) posted an interesting question on his blog last week: What is a Facebook Friend.

It’s a good question, and something that most people will have a slightly different answer to.  Facebook is undoubtedly the dominant Social Network for the moment, although we’re now seeing the rise of more specialist sites such as Quora or Pinterest.  When these are added to niche sites such as tripadvisor, yelp or (for Singapore) hungrygowhere, users start to have a plethora of different online personas – just as we all do in real life: work, home, in-laws house, beach, doctors-surgery, football-match, kids headmasters office, etc. etc.

My thoughts on a few popular sites below:

Hi Jeff, Nice post. For me, a FB friend is someone who I’ve shared a positive experience with in the past. It could be In-real-life or virtual, although it’s generally takes more time and interaction to build a virtual positive experience to balance the interpersonal queues that are missing versus real life (at least for now).

A Twitter connection is more about exploring interests together – which can form the basis for new friendships. It’s therefore more forward looking, if you will.

The catch all and least personal is LinkedIn – which, for me, represents a wide spectrum of contacts, from close ex-colleagues to someone I exchanged a business card with or have interacted with on a LinkedIn Group.

Finally there’s Pinterest “friends” – and I’m still working out what they are… Any thoughts? :-)

Are Mobile Operators missing a trick with 4G?

TelecomPaper posted an article last week about Vodafone’s roll out of FemtoCells in European Markets (Femtos are small mobile broadband (3G/4G) “base transmitters” that provide additional, very localised coverage – in a home or office). The major benefit for Mobile Operators is that they connect into their mobile network via a standard home or office broadband link – so the purchaser picks up the cost of the broadband link.  TelecomPaper questioned if this consumers wouldn’t think this is infact a bit of a con, as they pay full Mobile Telco voice tariffs for a service which piggybacks on the consumers own broadband connection.

Which makes me think, Operators are missing a trick here. As simultaneously, a major issue that has Operators scratching their heads about as mobile broadband explodes, is how to provide hugely better and faster access to mobile broadband with 4G coverage.  A consensus is forming around deployment of “small cells” in congested areas. An issue is getting the rights to install the cells.

Surely, combining the two would make sense?  Mobile Operators could provide an option to make the Femto multi-use and reduce the price to the consumer in a fair exchange of value.  In areas of high 3G/4G usage they could even offer the devices for free.

The fill article can be viewed here.

My comment:

Good read, there are some interesting parallel developments. The mobile phone is gradually replacing the fixed phone as the main residential phone, meanwhile a femto is effectively a “small cell”. There may be benefits to operators beyond viewing it as as a home coverage device. By making it “public” the returns would (on average) be higher per device, thereby underwriting the HW cost. The price to the customer could then be significantly reduced. It might even be worth Operators offering Femtos at cost in areas with low coverage (rural) or, better still, high demand (city high-streets) as part of a wider roll out plan for LTE. This might be especially valuable for operators on higher LTE frequencies with weak indoor penetration. As for WiFi issues, smart phones automatically prioritise WiFi access over 3/4G, the issue Femto fixes for the user is the ability to make and receive traditional calls & SMS. It may even be worth Operators considering bundling a WiFi router with the Femto.

This isn’t a new idea.  In the UK British Telecom do the same with their WiFi Routers, although sadly not with consumers permission.  Doing something similar with Femtos – but with pricing built into the offering should benefit everyone.