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The future of mobile – User Interfaces and Devices?

February 23, 2012

In the first part of the future of mobile I had a look at how the operators will need to change. Now we will have a look at where the device story is going in preparation for the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona next week.  In the past few years we have seen some trends that change the world of formerly known mobile phones big time. These trends included things like:

  • Touch screens
  • Applications on the mobile device for fun and business likewise
  • Always on (the net) devices
  • First devices became smaller and smaller but with touch the latest is that devices become large

And on top of that the mobile device is the perfect cloud device.

So where will it be going. Many predictions do say that gesture control will be the next big thing. This is something that started with the WII games console but only really became true with Microsoft Kinect. This sensor bar was first available for the Xbox360 game console but is now available for the PC as well. On the forefront of these predictions is Mercedes-Benz. This is a surprise but their vision is that you can e.g. control the radio via gestures, wink left and right for previous and next track and up and down to tweak the volume. I am not sure whether this is really a great idea. I imagine the old lady running into the front of the nice Mercedes with the notion “The driver waved me over the road and then ran over me”.  So maybe gestures are an interesting way of controlling a GUI but not in all surroundings. The same applies to mobile devices I do believe.

Neal Stephenson lately had an interesting view on what happens if people from the time of 1910 would be transported to the 60s he would be completely confused while someone from the 60s transported into our time would be able to adjust as there have been no major changes. Keeping this story in mind imagine what it would look like if the people in the street instead of operating their touch screens would wave in the air. It would look like a lot of madmen on the run. It would be the exaggeration of “Texting While Walking”. I just cannot see this happening. But what can I see happening? Actually there is a lot you could think about. The mobile phone embedded in a tooth is an old spy movie idea but isn’t that something we almost have already in the sense of headsets? So SciFy and spy movies it is to look at? Why not, since it was Star Wars that set the rules for the design of tablets (only they forget to claim a patent on it). Google is just rumored to create another movie fantasy for real and bring it to the market. The glasses that create an augmented reality and even create a controllable menu through head tilts for scrolling and clicking. Compared to gestures as described above these head movements are reported to be almost indistinguishable for passing people. While I do see applications in museums or tourist in a new city and even navigation system purposes (more on bikes rather than in cars) I do struggle to see each and everybody with these glasses. But on the other hand nobody would have ever imagined all the people with mobile phones and smartphones so it could well be that this is the next step.

If you keep thinking SciFy, holographic projections would be a nice thing  and only that the power needed is preventing this so far. The need for power might as well be lowered as well as more clever solutions to store power in mobile devices. So that is not that far off. Also with 3D entering the film making market and filmed content being the #1 content on mobile devices 3D will probably be the next step there as well. And if you extrapolate 3D where will you end up? Holographic projections will be that next logical step. One issue though remains with holographic projections and that is privacy. Imagine sitting in the subway and the guy next to you projecting the latest movie, maybe “Mission Impossible XII – the Zimmer frame mystery”, while the lady next to you watches the latest Bollywood movie and you trying to get a grip on the news. Not to forget that advertisement probably will pick this up first which will be a major nuisance? This would not happen with the augmented reality glasses though as they create an individual view that combine local position with personal favors.

So if gesture control is not mega breakthrough on the device front? Will it be the “one device suits all needs” story? The computing power within the devices is growing and the question arises why one would need a computer next to it. Some early tries to use e.g. a Samsung Galaxy Nexus as a computing device are going on. Actually it is quite a good idea but then again we see the multitude of devices exploding with different form factors for phones and tablets. This is an indicator that probably one device for all will not happen (who wants to pull out a full-blown tablet to answer a call?). But actually it can reduce the number of devices and surely is a trend to watch.  One of the huge challenges resulting from this will be the extended version of the headache “Bring Your Own Device” requests create in enterprises already today. So for this trend to become reality not only the devices need to evolve but also the methods and tools to manage these.

It will be interesting to see when content creation applications will appear on these devices which are content consumption mainly so far. It could well be that Windows 8 can bridge the consumption vs. creation barrier with a nice integration of Microsoft Office. On the other hand lots of content nowadays is created within social networks and here Google is on the forefront of thing. They do have the mobile space in sight as well as the social networks. Especially with the upcoming inroads into social collaboration with in companies (Google+ for the Enterprise) Google is in a pole position for success.

Let me come back to the story of the device in the tooth or the implant. There are two reasons I do not believe in this vision. First of all it opens all the floodgates towards a tracking and controlling even Orwell would have not imagined. In 1984 there was this little unobserved space in the apartment. This would not have happened with an embedded device. So I believe privacy concerns will, rightly prevent this. Secondly something that is embedded cannot add to the image. You cannot show it off unless you open your mouth for inspection or carry your X-Rays around. And let’s face it one piece of the success of the iPhone is that people perceive it as cool and it is a showy object.

Finally let us look at drivers for inventions. One driver for sure is the western world where feature phones just would not generate revenue and growth anymore. So innovation is the driver for future success. But as we have seen above the area of innovation is kind of limited. Sure you could create the bracelet-phone with the ear-ring headset but these are just alterations of what is already there.  Software makers are looking into approving the UI and the control features and hardware makers will embed these into TV set, etc. But as explained earlier the use on a mobile device might not be the cleverest way for gesture control and while we are at it, voice control has been around for a while and even with the success of Apple’s SIRI it cannot be called out as the next generation of mobile device control. It would be interesting though to talk the own house much like Sheriff Carter does in Eureka.

The second driver is what goes on in Asia and Africa. Have a look here for a view on the African story. The emerging areas will certainly shape the devices of the future.

I could only guess but given the fact that these areas often start their journey on a completely different infrastructure foundation other needs will emerge. One trend for sure will be the mobile phone as the most trusted device for financial transactions. While in the Western World this is unthinkable due to the well-established backbone of banks, in the so-called third world this might be different. Another thing these areas probably will call for is more resilient devices rather than the pretty but highly sensitive devices sold currently. Another software feature needed in the future will be a user management on the device. Today a phone is bound to one user. This probably would not be sustainable in the poorer parts f the world but with the phone also being a computing device a user management would make absolute sense. A logical consequence would be providers evaluating the way they create and submit claims. Maybe the SIM card is not the right way to do so anymore.

And then there are the two most important features of all.

  • The one neither me or anybody else has thought about so far – the true innovation
  • The power off button

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