Archive for November, 2013

What’s a phone anyway – the end of mobile strategies?

November 29, 2013

Since the iPhone first launched in 2006, I’ve maintained that having a mobile strategy is pointless – an opinion usually deemed either naïve, or contradictory for the sake of it. There were two reasons behind my stance: First that mobile handset technology would evolve quickly, driving constant changes in user behaviour as the increasingly powerful handsets are exploited in new ways. The second was that planning for mobile would be as ludicrous as planning for desktop, tablet, TV and other devices separately.

A third point that has come up more recently is that, while many mobile strategies have focused on phones, if you can make calls from tablets, desktops or even TVs, what is a phone anyway? Clearly the lines between devices are blurring, with smartphones the size of small tablets, tablets the size of large phones, laptops that behave like tablets, and TVs that work like PCs.

mobile strategy redundant - internet of things

As Dom Joly’s comedy sketch foreshadowed, the lines between devices are blurring

The Internet of Things

This isn’t an ‘I told you so’ post, but rather an explanation of why I think mobile strategy is becoming redundant, or is only part of a larger picture – that picture being the ‘Internet of Things’ (IOT). By now you will likely have heard about IOT, after all, it is being championed by the father of the internet, Tim Berners Lee himself. If you haven’t, then quite simply it is the concept that anything and everything, from microwaves to mousetraps, can be connected to the internet.

Driving this trend is the ever decreasing cost of computing. About ten years ago, the industry worked hard at bringing the cost of a laptop down to less than $100. Today, an Android tablet can be bought for less than $50. In fact, the cost of a chip and board that will allow you to connect to the internet has dropped to below $30 for a single unit, and below $15 for mass purchase.

Many ‘things’ can be connected

Right now, hobbyists, entrepreneurs and innovators are connecting ‘things’ to the internet. Good Night Lamp, a UK-based company, has designed a pair of lights that connect via the internet, to allow users to share their presence and availability – for example, a university student could switch on their light when home for the night, and their parent’s light would come on too to let them know their child was safe.

Mousetraps have been connected to the internet so that the owner of the trap receives an alert when the trap is set off. My personal favourite is the voice enabled / bar code scanning microwave, which scans your meal’s barcode, looks up cooking instructions on the internet, then automatically sets the cooking programme and provides voice instructions.

The next step will involve these devices talking to each other, for example, your alarm clock going off and putting on the TV, opening the curtains and turning on the lights.

mobile strategy redundant - internet of things
Good Night Lamp – one of several entrepreneurs discovering ‘things’ that can be connected to the internet

Low cost of hardware driving innovation

The low cost of the hardware is currently driving technology enthusiasts to experiment, and I believe we are in the calm before the storm. The real trigger for mass development will be non-technical people gaining the tools to build their own products and solutions, without electronics or programming knowledge.Of course, planning for a world where anything and everything is connected can incorporate a sub-strategy for mobile handsets, but planning for each device separately would evidently be counterproductive. And to prove that even the giants can get things wrong, Microsoft’s ‘three screen strategy’ (PC, phone and TV) has already been shown to be redundant.