Mobile in 2020: don't forget the humans

John C. Tanner
18 Feb 2010

Mobile apps in 2020 will feature neat high-tech stuff like personalized cars, digital boxes and augmented reality, but it’s the human element that should shape mobile’s development in the next decade.

That was the recurring theme during a packed conference session at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona Wednesday that aimed to predict how mobile will evolve over the course of the ‘10s.

Not unexpectedly, much of it was derived from existing technologies and ideas. For example, Cecilia Atterwall, head of Ericsson’s ConsumerLab, described 2020 as a hyper-connected world of digital wallets, telemedicine and apps aimed at everyday life in which the bus stop will know when your bus is arriving, your car will know the best route to take and your phone will know if that restaurant is any good.

Peter Meier, CTO and co-founder of Metaio, showcased the possibilities of augmented reality (AR) – digital content that can be overlaid onto the real world via cameras and displays, from iPhones to goggles – via apps that already exist, such as displays that show you how to fix an engine, digital boxes that show you what the product inside can do, and a running shoe that doubles as a game controller.

“SDKs are already available to create these experiences,” Meier said. “This will be a big year for AR.”

Even driving an automobile will be a different experience, said Thomas Felleger, CEO of IconMob.

“In 2020, your mobile device will serve as the DNA of your car,” he said, demonstrating how a mobile device could be linked to the car to personalize your digital dashboard controls with theme packages the same way handsets are personalized now via ringtones, wallpapers and widgets. (Imagine a Star Trek package where the car’s audio alerts are voiced by actors from the TV show or movie, and you get the idea.)

As cars become outfitted with rear-seat entertainment and navigation kits, service stations will get into the business of creating services at the gas pump (or recharging station, for electric cars) that allow customers to download maps, movies, music, new widgets or whatever else you may want for your car, Felleger said.

Of course, there is a dark side to that scenario, observed Gene Reznik, Communications MD for High-Tech Strategy Practice at Accenture: “I’ve talked to insurance companies that want to be able to rate premiums based on their driving behavior.”

However, that focus on user behavior will also be crucial to understanding just where all this is ultimately going to go, said Atterwall of ConsumerLab. “To understand what mobile will look like in 2020, you need to understand basic human behavior. If you can do that, you can shape the user experience in 2020.”

For example, she said, “When we talk to young people, they tell us that a computer without a connection is a useless piece of plastic, and no mobile phone or internet is the equivalent of social death.”

Hampus Jakobsson, co-founder of mobile UI firm TAT, echoed the sentiment that technology developments in mobile should be focused on real human problems to be solved rather than for its own sake, and that technology should never get in the way of the experience.

“We don’t talk to each other right now – we talk to machines,” he said. “When we tweet, there is a machine acting as a filter between you and your followers. We want to make the machine invisible.”

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