SPECIAL REPORT: The Future Of Mobile

Motorola StartacWe’ve come this far in 15 years. Imagine where we’ll be in another decade.

Photo: Associated Press

Can you believe it’s been four years since Apple started selling the iPhone at the end of June, 2007?That was a real turning point in the mobile industry.

Since then, smartphones have evolved from an expensive luxury to a common tool. 

Things that didn’t exist — the App Store, Angry Birds, Google Android — are now everyday realities for a lot of people.

Companies that were doing well four years ago — Motorola, Nokia, Palm, RIM, and Microsoft — are now trying to mount comeback efforts after losing their footing.

But as much as the mobile industry has grown and changed since then, it’s just getting started. Most people still don’t use the Internet on their phones, or download apps. They will, but it will take time, and more evolution of the industry.

So what’s coming? Faster and cheaper phones, brighter screens, better Internet access, and more games, of course. (And plenty more, according to a panel of experts we asked.)

But there are a few trends we’re especially interested in, which are worth paying attention to.

Using your web-connected phone to do more stuff in the real, offline world.

This includes using your phone to pay for real-life goods, as a mobile wallet, the way they’ve been doing in Japan for years. Want to ride the subway or buy a snack? Just tap your smartphone to a sensor, and go. Your coupons and loyalty programs will be automatically triggered.

Google has recently announced a pilot for mobile payments, and many companies are gearing up for similar programs, including the phone carriers. Apple might too.

It’s obviously already very easy to use a credit card, but if someone can give consumers the right incentive to use their phones to pay for stuff, it could be a big trend in the next decade or so.

Wearing your tech.

Smartphones have been shrinking, but because of screens and batteries, they’re still too big and bulky to wear.

But with voice recognition software, artificial intelligence, and other improvements, perhaps we’ll be wearing more of our electronics in the next decade? Maybe you can leave your phone in your pocket and just have a conversation with it, via wireless earpiece? 

That’s one of the reasons that Internet pioneer Marc Andreessen has invested in the company behind the Jawbone earpiece, for example.

Even if mobile technology isn’t wearable, it’ll at least be more omnipresent.

The mobile-first and mobile-only world.

For most Westerners, the smartphone is their second, third, or fourth computer. But for big parts of the world, the mobile phone will be their first and/or only Internet-connected computer. That arguably makes mobile software and services even more important for them than it is for us. How will they be served? Will they zoom past us?

New business models for mobile services.

We’ve seen ad-supported services take off on the Web. So have more recent business models like virtual goods sales, and local deals. Amazon has recently started subsidizing its Kindle e-reader with ads.

Will we finally start to see less-expensive, ad-supported mobile phones over the next few years? Or ad-supported phone service?

Will carriers at least start to get their act together and bundle more of your mobile devices — a smartphone and tablet, for example — onto one subscription? Will International roaming ever be affordable?

We expect to see many changes here over the next several years.


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