Visions of personal mobility: 2015

The changes in the ways we manage and enjoy our lifestyle will be many and seem somewhat rapid to casual bystanders over the next 5 years. But to the digital residents and immigrants of today it will all seem very natural and logical, thanks to many factors. The lines we draw between our personal and business lifestyles will continue to blur, but in ways that increase the consumer benefits and business efficiency at the same time. With "the art of the possible" as a backdrop, new and existing industries will be led down a path of change. Satisfying customer needs and desires has always been a key to revenue and profits; now the route is more direct, an opportunity for some, but will produce pitfalls for others.

So looking 5 years out and then “backcasting” to the present (as a sanity check) we must consider not just technology, but also consumer behaviour, content, creativity, commercialisation and the reality of just how fast change can and will happen. Only the right combination of enablers, commercial environments and consumer desire with built-in steps from where we are today will produce the forecasts for tomorrow. Based on this approach, here are a few of my insights for 5 years out:

Content will still be King, but Context will be Queen

Content, applications and searchable info databases are now all in place, an important proof point for heightened personal access and awareness in 2015. The breakthrough for continued enrichment of this asset will come from the wisdom of the consumer "crowd" who will define and refine the big head and the long tail of content and applications over the next 5 years. The mechanisms for this are inherent in the social and search capabilities that people use today. The key point here is that the info and content is a given and it is interactive and media-rich already. The ability for man or machine to search and find relevant snippets is also now well developed. 

Mobile will get a lot more "Pushy" - proper personalisation and context awareness are the keys to the 5-year transition from search (“Pull”) to just-in-time discovery (“Push"). In 2015 people will have at their disposal info that enhances their awareness, well-being and competitiveness. And it will come to them in a much more natural and timely way.

Publishing becomes personal

Getting everything in a much more personalised and timely way will cause the monthly and even daily periodicals to become old news before printed. Colourful and descriptive magazines of today will become too flat and not interactive enough to satisfy the crowd. By 2015 we will at least see the once growing racks of magazines in large bookstores dwindling in size as will the thickness of the magazines themselves. Newspapers? For the most part gone by 2015. ePads and colour ePaper much more dominant in 2015.

Infinite Content, Apps Mobility and the Cloud

Content creators and gatherers, and applications developers can take it from here, with the consumer as their constant and reliable feedback loop. Pioneers can now step back and watch their technology emerge organically inside a broader ecosystem. This is because technology in general has now put the consumer in charge of what he or she can choose to do. That’s why things can and will happen fast, but the concentration now has to be on the personal value derived, not the underlying technologies. The cloud will be bigger, better and become infinitely endowed with content and capability on the road to 2015 and beyond.

The cloud will be at your disposal. Connectivity to the cloud is ubiquitous globally now and will only improve and totally taken as a given in 2015.  Bandwidth and capacity will no doubt lag demand slightly, but will fall into place as new wealth producing business models justify the investment. The value added strategy for mobile operators is enabling the services flawlessly and allowing revenue to flow for others.

People will carry less, but have more

Small is the order of the day with personal devices, but this has also caused frustration with wanting to do more but not having the input and output facilities to do so. To succeed in any sector, the user experience must be totally natural, intuitive and not disruptive. The five senses are the key to this and the technology enablers in the areas of ear, eye and touch are developing especially well for a much more realistic and natural experience in 2015. Touch and gesture based interfaces and personal displays are examples. 

Video is the new Voice

Rich interactive content is on tap everywhere, it seems, but still not as enjoyable as it needs to be from a pocket-sized mobile device. So especially of interest are the innovations in what I call the "Virtually Large, Actually Small" (VLAS) technologies - large screens in small packages such as pico projectors, video eyewear, flexible epaper (I’m watching companies like Vuzix, Microvision, Plastic Logic and others). All of these are on the market now and evolve to bring the value from the cloud into users line of sight, anywhere, anytime. In most cases these "virtual" displays are as large or larger than the physical screens we enjoy at home, yet can fit in your pocket or bag.

Your content, anywhere

The habit of time and place shifting infotainment will become totally second nature by 2015. The combination of affordable mass storage in the pocket, home and cloud plus connectivity everywhere means each person’s unique ‘collection’ will be on tap at all times and enjoyed on whichever screen and speakers best suit the situation.

The large number of cable connectors on modern TV’s are evidence that the separation of the screen from the source of content is inevitable. This is phase one, but two key elements must mature for this to happen by 2015.

Firstly, the cabling must go and wireless take over the task of getting from devices to screen. Secondly, the various connectivity boxes now found in the home (wireless, broadband, STB, etc.) must merge and take on a bit of applications capability. No technology barriers, just operator inhibitions. SlingMedia is the company that comes to mind, but CES showed us many others.

3D for the Masses

For most of us, we spend all our waking hours seeing things in 3D. So, it's not a surprise to me that 3D (done right for once) has become quite popular in everything from sports to games to blockbuster movies. User generated 3D content is also coming along rapidly thanks to new consumer priced digital cameras as well as facilities on YouTube, Flickr and other content repositories which now support both the downloading and conversion of 3D to multiple formats.

Some of the VLAS devices described above support large screen 3D viewing as well due to the "virtual" large screen being made up of two tiny screens (left and right) offering 3D glasses that do not need bulky screens. What could be more mobile than that? I've written in-depth about the possibilities that gives us before.

AR4Me?

It is a natural trait of today’s digital residents to acquire information in real time as needed. The Web supports this and seldom lets us down. Making this all the more timely and automatic is a natural progression from where we are today. Reality happens all around people, not just at their desk where the computer is. So reality must be in a position to be augmented anytime, anyplace.

Starting this year, mobile devices are appearing that are up to this task of doing AR properly and a healthy installed base will be in place well before 2015. Normal individuals seem to be able to grasp the personal value, entertainment or comfortable feelings that could come from one’s reality being augmented with valuable and timely information.

The mobile phone, and more importantly, the person carrying it, are the final destinations for the AR value proposition and will be the 2015 home of the majority of AR applications. But AR will have moved on significantly in terms of what it will enable us to do.

E3 – Everything Everywhere, Embedded

More and more, connectivity will be inherent in devices, accessories, sensors and tools that we carry with us. With a powerful connectivity hub on every person as well, these devices can become much smaller, more portable and wearable. The inventory of potential sensors, sniffers, peepers and "bugs" of all kinds number in the thousands and are ready to be deployed into a new range of useful applications for enhancement of health, safety, well-being and total awareness.

Batteries will be less of an issue in 2015

Battery advances won’t keep up with the more intense usage expected, but technologies will appear to couple ‘always on’ with ‘always on charge’. Habitual daily device charging has become the norm today, but new advances like wireless charging, solar and many other juice producing and inducing technologies are finally appearing.

Powermat and others have now led the way to critical mass on the wireless charging front. Materials and clothing that produce electricity from motion, heat and light are coming onto the scene. By 2015 we will be well along the road to devices finding cordless charge points in most places where they come to rest.

A Mobile Technology Invasion?

The desire for personal mobility in the way we consume content has already changed a few industries (e.g. music, social networks, etc.). In some cases this has caused disruption to the historic industry structures, but in time has left the consumer with more and better ways to access personalised content.

By 2015, several other industries will be affected, hopefully with positive results for the consumer as well. Changes described above could be very beneficial to personal health and well-being both in terms of cost and effectiveness. This is starting to become evident as some of the dots are now being connected up in the medical industry. Other areas to watch are education and training, publishing, broadcasting and content delivery of all types. Because mobile gets directly to (and from) the person, it's going to be a very interesting sector to watch.

Final thought

My last prediction for 2015 is that technology will go into hiding. Fashion follows function in my book and more and more technology will be disappearing into the things we wear and carry. It’s not unusual today to see people talking or listening as they walk, supported by non-visible devices in their pockets.

In 2015, thanks to miniaturisation of everything and enablers like the VLAS technologies mentioned above, we will be able to add line of sight info and "sit down/feet up" entertainment to the list of things people will be equipped to do anywhere without taking out any bulky devices. People will be cool and connected at the same time. Let the wearable technology fashion show begin.

Also to disappear before 2015 (hopefully) is the term “phone” as a descriptor of the device that has found a home in everyone’s pocket. The mobile device I carry has 100+ application icons, all of which I use and only one of them is to turn it into a phone. The "phone" application can now disappear into the device ready to be used along with the others as and when needed. Mobile "phone" suppliers who continue to insist that the phone is the centre of the equation may disappear also.

All in all, a good outlook for consumers in 2015, but not without some industry disruptions I suspect…

Ken Blakeslee is Chairman of WebMobility Ventures which is focused on Discovery, Advisory and Investment in Innovations in the emerging Services Convergence areas of Mobile. kblakeslee@webmobility.com 

You can read more of Ken's ideas on 3D, on AR and on the future in general and all our writings on 2015 on our Future Week homepage



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