I’ve worked in the mobile industry since 2001.
When I worked at Amazon.com as a co-op student, I asked to be placed on a fledgling team called “Amazon Anywhere”. It was formed to make Amazon work “anywhere outside the PC” (or so I’d heard). I remember building WAP pages and voice apps. I built a product where you could call a 1-800 number and order the latest Harry Potter book. Building and consuming mobile “apps” was full of friction.
Mobile has come a long way since then, mostly because of the seminal introduction of the iPhone in 2007.
Today, there are 2.5 billion smartphone users all around the world. Some of the most valuable companies in the world have been built because of this invention.
And I think we’re just getting started. I think the next decade of mobile is going to be the realization of it’s fullest potential - a stage I’ll call Mobile 3.0.
First, some definitions:
- Mobile 1.0 (pre-smartphone) was about telecommunications networks, SMS and wireless data. Carriers had all the power in this stage - they owned the pipe and controlled content through their “decks”. Building a mobile software company was an expensive endeavor.
- Mobile 2.0 (the transition to smartphones) was about all the race to own the mobile OS and the app ecosystem. Carriers lost power and it went to device manufacturers. The mobile form factor was solidifed, and phones evolved to get better displays, more sensors and a deeper software stack. Apps flourished and became a part of our everyday lives.
- Mobile 3.0 (smartphones everywhere) is about what’s next - the realization of the smartphone’s full potential as a ubiquitous computing platform.
I believe this will happen in a number of ways, some listed below.
Infrastructure built for mobile ubiquity: There are 2.5 billion smartphone in consumers hands. Their ubiquity will mean more real world infrastructure will be built with an assumption that everyone has a phone. We will use smartphones to unlock our homes, start our cars, and use them as passports. Many of these use cases already exist today - this future will become more evenly distributed. Everyday objects will either disappear or transform based on this ubiquity. At the software layer, these utilities will require a stronger tie to real world identity and necessitate a stronger trust infrastructure.
Apps will become smaller and distribution dynamics will change: The first decade of the smartphone was also the web vs. native app debate. Web apps did not replace mobile apps, but the native app installation process remains one of the biggest points of friction. To overcome this, existing apps will become platforms for “micro-app” ecosystems. The app stores themselves are already experimenting with previewing apps and micro-versions of app experiences to overcome this hurdle. From a development standpoint, frameworks like React Native and Expo are making it possible for continuous deployment of apps (Expo is a development platform but also a “browser of apps”). In Asia, it’s already proven how messaging apps can become app ecosystems, although that hasn’t been realized in North America just yet. While Facebook has the natural advantage, it has a lot to do to rebuild trust with app developers based on how it has treated publishers.
Mobile native entertainment: The first decade of mobile was about mobile becoming the dominant distribution platform for media. But the media formats we’re consuming has been largely defined in a pre-smartphone era. This is changing as the worlds of gaming, video, publishing and music are combining to create a new mobile native media formats. New consumption business models will be built beyond simple subscription and a-la-carte, and new consumption patterns will develop especially in short-form narrative content.
Real world manipulation using on-device AI and AR. The combination of these two technologies on the smartphone will create a new breed of real world services. AI will help apps “recognize” the world around them, and AR helps them “modify” it. These two capabilities together create the ability to manipulate reality. A great example of this is the Homecourt app recently demo’d during the iOS 12 launch. AR apps will be the differentiating factor in device sales - control of the hardware and software stack will help Apple capture most of the value share here.
Mobile is nowhere near done, and I’m looking forward to seeing what the next few years have in store.