The future of mobile is open and smart.

I spent half of last week at the Thinking Digital conference. If you ever get the chance to go I really would take it, being such a concentrated dose of all things awesome. There really was a staggering depth and breadth do it. I fully intend to go through my notes and write up my highlights, but I want to focus in this post on an almost throw-away comment made by David Siegel in his (otherwise fantastic) presentation.

The comment was something along the lines of predicting that in the future we will have ‘dumbphones’ instead of ‘smartphones’. The scenario presented was that if you lose your phone you’ll be able to borrow someone else’s, or pick one up cheaply, connect it to your ‘personal data locker’ and carry on as normal.

Behind this scenario I felt there was a fatalistic view of the future, one in which humankind attempts to design and engineer a world seen only in science-fiction films. I’m no psychology or sociology expert, but I’ve 29 years’ experience and observation of human nature under my belt. And it strikes me that the one, highly personal and customised thing that people carry around with them everywhere is their mobile phone. So to say that they will become commodity items (in the way that, for example, batteries are) doesn’t ring true for me.

A related point, not made or even insinuated by Siegel, is the assumption held by many that the internet was created for businesses to make a profit. I’d just like to make the fairly obvious point that this is not the case. I’m beginning to see what Chris Messina was getting at last year when he pointed out the dangers surrounding the death of the URL and the ‘appification’ of the web. I’m experimenting by ditching my iPhone for a more open platform.

I’ll let you know how I get on… 🙂

7 Comments

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  1. Based on the comment I would assume he was envisaging something more akin to how Citrix works. Where in theory you can have your own fully customised desktop with all your contacts apps etc… But you can access this from any computer (Mac, PC or Linux…)

    I could envisage a day when I could pick up anyone’s iphone for example and login as me and it would become my iphone setup how I use it with access to all my data, and apps etc… I could then log out and nothing permanent would be left on the phone.

    It requires a fast data connection but I can see it happening…

  2. I am nothing without the cloud.

  3. Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t the ‘personal data locker’ model similar to what Google has already done with Android? Sure, the look & feel of my phone is individual to my handset (what icons are on which screen, etc.), but when I get a new Android phone in another year or so, I’ll disconnect my current one from my Google account, connect the new one, and I should be able to get all my previously downloaded apps from the Market and my Google contacts will sync to the phone. The amount of customization I would do (barring rooting it & installing custom ROMs) would be superficial.

    Granted, currently this all takes place within the parameters of Google’s authorized handsets – I couldn’t ditch my Android phone, pick up an iPhone, and expect the same syncing to happen – but maybe it’s not as far-fetched as it might sound.

  4. Actually, the idea of disposable computing devices is something that I think may happen in the future — if the devices get cheap enough and bandwidth is plentiful (and people’s expectations are different).

    In the work that I did on the Social Agent (http://factoryjoe.com/social-agent/) I outlined a situation quite like that:

    http://factoryjoe.com/blog/2010/03/11/the-social-agent/

    It’s a little lengthy, but you might find the vignette somewhat useful to consider.

    • Thanks, Chris, for the comment and the link. I think the bit you put in
      parentheses about people’s expectations being different is a big thing. But
      that’s not easy to change.

      I’ve been interested to see people disagreeing with me and am fully prepared
      to be wrong! Fascinating times! 🙂

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