The future of mobile innovation – this is just the beginning

If you talk to anybody who looks at trends and the future of technology, almost everyone talks about three key sectors that will see further innovation and widespread adoption: mobile computing, cloud computing and big data. We saw how all these technologies were effectively utilized in the 2012 US election which took place this month.  And we also saw some of these technologies used to good effect in the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics.

Even the law firm DLA Piper’s fifth Technology Leaders Forecast survey, which was developed in conjunction with the firm’s 2012 Global Technology Leaders Summit, talks about these three areas as the most promising technologies for investors and entrepreneurs.

So how is mobile, cloud and big data innovation driving today’s and tomorrow’s economy? And how was it used in the US elections? And what is the future?

The mobile innovation drive

Mobile communications and devices are already driving a new era in the business and social world. We’ve already seen the influence and important of digital networks and social media at the recent London 2012 Olympics. And we are seeing the emergence of mobile as being a platform for enabling new business models in all areas around the world – in government services delivery, in healthcare, in education, and of course in the enterprise. We already referenced this in our paper on the future vision of telecoms, internet, media and edutainment in the article here.

In fact Gartner, the market research firm, says that as many as 821 million smart devices (smartphones and tablets) will be purchased worldwide in 2012 and this figure will exceed one billion in 2013. It also predicts that in 2016, over 2.7 billion mobile devices are expected to be purchased globally, and two-thirds of the mobile workforce will own a smartphone, with 40 percent of the workforce being mobile.  Tablet devices will be a key accelerator to mobility – Gartner estimates that in 2012 purchases of tablets by businesses will reach 13 million units and will more than triple by 2016, to reach 53 million units.

The availability of this channel to customers and employees presents a need for organizations to design their business around mobile, to improve application delivery, employee productivity and process work flows.

It is thought that in less than two years, 20 percent of sales organizations will use iPads as the primary mobile platform for their field sales force. By 2018, 70 percent of mobile workers will use a tablet or a hybrid device that has tablet characteristics.

Many in the industry seem to think that much of the innovation in mobile technologies will come from Asia.  According to one investor based in California, countries with large populations such as India and Indonesia, where most people using the Internet do so with their mobile devices, are becoming catalysts for mobile innovation. An example of true innovation (rather than being a rehash of existing technology) is a SIM-based mobile payment system which only requires the phone network and no internet access – this is provided by Malaysian company Tootpay.

Asia might even drive mobile innovation in the USA, if you look at the headline in the Washington Post, about Japanese company Softbank’s recent announcement that it would be acquiring Sprint Nextel for $20 billion. The article argues that Softbank is Japan’s equivalent of Apple, and rather than focus on devices, the Japanese company hopes to innovate at the point of delivery – ie: in the fastest 4G networks and the services offered to customers.

US elections – a good example of social, mobile, cloud and big data usage

The US 2012 election campaign was the ultimate user of current technologies available in all of these areas. This was both for managing the campaign among campaign staff, and to target voters.

According to Greg Chase writing in the SAP business innovation blog, cloud computing was used effectively to link many field offices to state and national offices. Since political campaigns are only temporarily active for just a few months, and also geographically spread widely, renting cloud-based infrastructure seemed to be the ideal way of deploying the applications needed to manage the whole campaign. No hardware purchase was necessary, and voter and volunteer data could easily be transferred to low cost data storage devices or services.

The cloud was used to store searchable campaign intelligence, and tacked and documented all the details about the candidates, their speeches, videos.  ‘Big data’ profiles of voters were created to better target and motivate voters. A number of mobile apps were available from both candidates as well as the news organizations.

And finally social media was used to influence votes and drive donations. In particular, Chase references startup company Votizen , with its web service that allows you to discover how your friends on social networks are registered to vote, and campaign with them (or influence them) to elect candidates that share your values.  It claims to have a 200 million strong voter database which is social media ready. Voters can connect to their own records to see their voting registration and history, as well as use it to prove their power to those that hold and seek office. Voters can then scan their social networks and reveal the voters they can work with to campaign for candidates they believe in, whether it’s nationwide for a presidential election, or in a local city council race.

This is just the beginning

Industry commentators think we are only just at the beginning of a new innovation cycle in mobile. As highlighted by the recent GigaOm Mobilize 2012 event, there are several areas that point to the future of mobile innovation. Examples cited include the ability to have a ‘point of sale’ everywhere, as demonstrated by Square’s comment that 35 million unique Americans who have already made payments using its mobile card reader which enables anyone to accept credit cards anywhere; and the rapid growth of video over mobile – the article cites Google’s YouTube claiming that 25 percent of its content is now delivered to mobile, while in Korea this figure is closer to 50 percent.

The technology team at PriceWaterhousCoopers says that we are at the beginning of the mobile ecosystem disruption. According to Kayvan Shahabi, PwC’s US technology advisory leader, writing in RCR Wireless, “Mobile computing will continue to drive dramatic changes in how we conduct business, communicate with each other, access and share content, pursue knowledge and educate our children. Even with the tremendous breakthroughs to date, in the future, wireless devices and their supporting services will likely run applications faster, store more data, create better pictures and display information in brighter and more compelling images. This path of innovation, combined with the right business models, should ultimately lead to disruptive products that further transform the ecosystem and many industries in ways we never imagined.”

Indeed we are moving into a mobile world which is could be driven in the future by innovation in Asia and parts of Africa, and likely to also emerge in South America.  We have seen some great usage in the US elections and the London Olympics, but this is only just the beginning.

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