Mobile Technology is adding new dimensions to our everyday
The online world evolves rapidly —the Internet appeared just over 30 years ago, it has only been widespread for around 15 years and social networks have barely been known for around 10 years… Yet at this point, with more than a billion smartphones shipped around the world, mobile channels are ubiquitous and have become a primary source of information for most people.
It is hard to imagine how the Internet will be in 10, 15 or 20 years time, but so far some online trends for 2014 are crystallizing.
Second Phase of the Smartphone Revolution
PCs, laptops, tablets, smartphones, TVs, game consoles, glasses… You name it. We have more ways than ever before to browse the Internet from wherever we are. However, although researches have found that depending on the time of day or what we want to do we are more likely to use one type of device or another, smartphones have established a strong position as our preferred medium —we constantly carry them, they allow us to always be connected and capture social or private moments and we can access anything we want or need through them.
Agencies monitoring the use of mobile devices have shown figures which continue to grow and still have plenty of room to improve:
1. 91% of the world population owns a mobile phone. Of those, 56% have a smartphone. In fact, in January 2012 the number of iPhones sold each day (402,000) already exceeded that of births (300,000).
There are more iPhones sold per day (402k) than people born in the World per day (300k). https://t.co/yJDMdiev
— Luke Wroblewski (@lukew) January 24, 2012
2. 50% of mobile users use the phone as their main point of access to the Internet.
3. 80% of the time on mobile devices is spent within apps.
Back in 2007 Apple started the smartphone revolution by launching the iPhone, but as more affordable phones crop up during 2014, we’ll probably live the second phase of the smartphone revolution. Some large companies like China’s Xiaomi are stepping up to the plate and want to start offering their own smartphones. This has turned the advanced electronic components of these devices into commodities —therefore pushing their prices down. Today, manufacturing a smartphone is much less expensive than a few years ago, which means gadgets are getting cheaper. So much so, that some sources are already talking about next-generation smartphones for just about $50.
Because of this ever increasingly high mobile trend, it is important to create content that adapts automatically to the screen where it’s been displayed. This type of content design is known as responsive because it responds to the user’s visual needs, automatically adjusting the graphics to the smaller dimensions of the mobile devices.
The App Boom
According to Flurry Analytics, the use of mobile applications increased 115% during 2013, mainly driven by messaging (+203%) and productivity (+149%) apps. In fact, on January 13, 2014 Whatsapp announced via Twitter a record in daily messaging: 27 billion messages processed from their 250 million active users.
Apps are already the main point of access to the Internet from mobile devices. But —why? In general, people prefer them because navigation is easier, providing faster access to all kinds of information (text, audio, video). In fact, one of the most important changes we have been experiencing in recent years is the gradual shift from the “World Wide Web” to semi-closed platforms which use the Internet as a means of transport but do not use a browser at all. Indeed, already back in 2010, Wired magazine spoke about the “death of the web” and crowned the app as the new king of online navigation.
We use apps so much, that they’ve specialized. For example, there are special apps which use GPS to locate and identify whatever surrounds you. This is the case of Wikitude, which allows you to zoom in on a place and read the site’s Wikipedia info, advice and reviews from Foursquare and more. Or Google Sky Map, a free app that identifies stars, constellations, planets and other celestial bodies above your head just by directing your phone’s camera to the sky.
There are also many funny applications, such as Augmented Colors, allowing people to capture their favorite colors —you only need to direct your phone towards the color you want to save and the app identifies the RGB and hexadecimal values and stores them. And purely recreational apps like iPew, created for when you fancy shooting somebody in the face with a laser.
Meanwhile, Apple has gone a step further and has launched the iBeacon, a transmitter using Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) technology to enable apps to provide users with custom notifications based on their location. For example, if someone with an iPhone walks by a store with an iBeacon, she will receive a small notification from the store (provided the option is enabled on her phone).
New Painfully Easier Online Payment Methods
At the TechCrunch Disrupt San Francisco 2013 conference, PayPal presented Beacon, their new mobile payments service, in a clear reference to Apple’s technology. The gadget connects via BLE to the payment systems and POS devices in a store, as well as to the buyers’ smartphones, so that the buyer can pay without GPS or phone connection, and without even using an app or registering.
This comes to support other payment methods such as Google Wallet, MasterCard’s MasterPass or Visa’s PayWave, which are already quite popular, as well as hundreds of other independent platforms like >virus. In a nutshell, these payment systems create eWallets that allow users to pay without having to provide bank details or card numbers. First the buyer transfers an amount from her bank account to her eWallet and, once in the store, she uses her smartphone to scan a QR code (the modern barcode) or a BIDI code (same as QR, but closed source) and make the payment.
Square, oftentimes referred to as Square Up, is a company specializing in online and credit & debit cards payments, which has had great success thanks to its mobile app and card reader. Jack Dorsey, founder of Twitter, created Square in 2009 and the firm has since grown dramatically. The reason for this success is the fact that Square has totally changed traditional card processing parameters, making it possible for any iPhone, iPad or Android user to register online, download an app and receive a free card reader by post shortly after. Once the user has received the small device, she just needs to plug it into the headphone jack of her phone to operate her mobile card reader.
Since the launch of the company, Square has rolled out other online payment services for both personal and commercial use, like Square Cash (a P2P transfer service which allows users to send money for free via email) or Square Wallet (a digital wallet app which you can use to pay in a store using Square tech). Indeed, the company made a splash in August 2012 when they sealed a deal with Starbucks to offer Square Wallet as a checkout method in their stores.
Even big industry players such as Intuit (GoPayment) and North American Bancard (Pay Anywhere) have an eye on Square’s technology. Which is no wonder as Square provides an economically sound solution for card processing without long-term commitments: businesses that want to accept payments by card find the company highly attractive because they only have to pay a fee per transaction and none of the other commissions.
However, it seems as if Square’s service is not without problems. The company policy regarding fund holding in case of suspected fraud is not transparent and makes it risky for high volume traders. Square uses a confidential algorithmic system which holds transactions considered suspicious for a minimum of 30 days, and which is apparently marking a large number of legitimate, high amount transactions. The main problems, therefore, seem to be that the company doesn’t want to share their basis to consider an order as “potentially fraud” and they don’t clearly notify users of their process in the event of potential fraud.
In any case, when we consider all of these factors and we add to the mix the expansion of virtual currencies like Bitcoin, it seems credit cards future is not so bright.
Home Integration & Automation
2014 is also expected to be the year of the phablet (those devices midway between a phone and a tablet, like the Samsung Galaxy Notes).
Be that as it may, falling prices in the industry will surely encourage another boom of mobile devices less “handset” and more “wearable”. In addition to accessories such as Google Glasses or Samsung’s Smart Watches, there are many startups like Rest Devices developing stuff such as smart clothing: In their case, the firm has created baby clothes with sensors and transmitters which notify the parents every time their baby needs to be changed, but there are already hundreds of other great ideas just in this sector, like smart firefighting gear.
For certain, the future of the Internet is going to be linked to home automation (also known as domotics). A device will regulate your home temperature, manage your doors automatically, turn on your appliances… All, through your phone. That’s indeed the way Google is heading by purchasing Nest, a company specializing in home automation using machine learning.
But they are not the only ones. Technology is getting cheaper, faster, smaller, less power-intensive, more numerous and smarter.
2014 will mark the beginning of an All-Smart Era.