[wireless week] If the build-out of wireless cellular telephone networks, making phone calls portable and available to billions more people, was ‘Mobile 1.0,’ then perhaps you’ll agree that Mobile 2.0 was the data revolution. It started a decade ago, leading to a lot of premature predictions about broader economic impact which actually didn’t get underway with any significance until flat-rate data plans and more capable, general-purpose handsets emerged in the last three years. But never mind, that’s all forgiven, for we’re finally through that transition. We realize now that not only can phone calls be anywhere, so can bits of any kind. When my mother starts talking about data in the cloud, I think it’s safe to say that most of us get it.
In the last six months or so there’s been an intensifying wave of further innovation in mobile. It’s increasingly clear to me that we’re building a new layer on the foundations of Mobile 2.0. For analysts who seek to get up over the trees to see the forest, the question is — what the heck is it?
Mobile 3.0, if you will (but truly I hate these cutesy rev numbers, so that’s the last time I’ll use the term) is about integration. Not integration in the more pedestrian sense of making two pieces of software, or two companies, work together — but a larger, more comprehensive integration of mobile with real life. Call it hyper-integration – a profound and irreversible co-mingling of what used to be offline and online experiences to form an essentially new type of activity in every domain it touches — fueled by inventive mobile-centric devices and applications.
A phrase you used to hear only in arcane software development circles is “use case.” But in the course of one day at an event last week, I heard it no less than five times from different speakers. Why? Because in each situation they were emphasizing the coupling of technology with specific times, places, contexts, and more, to determine how to create unique value. The blossoming of the term comes from the realization that, in developing the next wave of mobile services, we aren’t targeting gamers, or soccer moms, or the SMB section of the enterprise space — not specific market segments at all, but rather the tremendous multi-dimensional nature of our activities.
What’s hyper-integrated mobile?
In gaming, it’s using mobile devices and apps to ‘game-ify’ the real-world around us, integrating physical infrastructure with online games. Remember arguing with your childhood friends about which fencepost would serve as second base? Now mobile experiences label the world’s tangible assets as way-stations and goals in games.
In navigation, it’s turning the mobile camera into a heads-up display showing us nearby subway stops and ATMs.
In shopping, it’s in-store, in-aisle assistance, with the likes of Modiv Media, AisleBuyer, Single-Click Checkout, and more stampeding to lead this change. (One mobile commerce startup exec said recently, “This is re-defining retail. People will start shopping by researching online, then complete it offline… but using mobile support. How will you classify that transaction? It won’t be about offline commerce versus online commerce anymore.”)
In basic communications, it’s going from voice or text or video, to experiences that blur the three in weird new ways, moving from silo’d choices to richer blended offerings. At the same event last week, I saw a VC razzed by his peers when he suggested 2011 might be the year of mobile voice apps, but we’ve probably only scratched the surface of voice’s potential to be re-introduced to mobile activities as an easy, familiar input and output element.
In driving, it’s not just adding mobile to the automobile so that drivers get real-time traffic updates and passengers can have WiFi, it’s integrating a connected car+driver pair to the outside world, talking with parking meters, tolls booths, insurance monitoring services, and more.
Back in the 1970s, futurist Ted Nelson coined the term ’intertwingled‘ to describe the potential rich linkages between ideas that he envisioned. I loved the word the first time I heard it as a programmer in the ’80s. Decades later, HTML emerged to make that concept feasible for the world’s text. But I think we’re headed for a world of intertwingled offline and online experiences, all thanks to the next wave of mobile devices and apps.
There are massive numbers of mobile-based hyper-integration opportunities yet to be unlocked. And I think the principle impediment at this point is not whether we will have to develop for two major handset OSes or three, or whether flat-rate mobile data pricing reverts to tiered pricing, or indeed how any other real but prosaic technical issue is settled. No, the major obstacle is that our collective imagination about these opportunities is still very limited today. It’s as if we’re all inhabitants of Flatland, unable to understand the existence of a three-dimensional Spaceland. It’s going to take the patient evangelism of some thoughtful people to bust open our closed mindsets, to stretch our thinking into this new dimension.
Olof Schybergson, a designer whose firm works on connected interfaces, points out that we’re only now tapping into the true utility of a handset’s camera and other sensors. “The camera is an input device as important as the keyboard or the finger gestures we’re learning. Why not decline an incoming phone call by waving it away — letting the camera see your hand wave over the lens?”
Ted Morgan, CEO of location intelligence leader Skyhook Wireless, remarked to me recently that though he talks constantly to web companies about integrating location with their content and activities, still very few get it. But he sees a huge wave of opportunity he calls “geo plus anything”, meaning any activity enhanced with location intelligence. “Geo-reading, for instance: what are people around me on the beach reading? Is that what I might feel like reading right now, too? Geo-music: The music hit list shouldn’t be the sales across all of iTunes… it should be the purchases of the people like me, around me.”
This looming interconnectedness of functionality, with people conjuring new words and phrases like ‘mobile social local gameified commerce’ to describe their efforts, means that those of us who carve up the world to analyze and invest in it will be confounded. Our Venn diagrams and 2x2s and other tricks to pigeon-hole innovation and structure markets don’t work all that well with a richly blended, integrated world. That’s the bad news. But the good news for Yankee Group, at least, is that we’re focusing on research now on the connected user experience. And for my money, that’s not just about the connection of the devices and content to the user, but the interconnectedness of those experiences with the entire ambient environment. Welcome to mobile hyper-integration.
Mobile hyperintegration: is your brain ready?