There have been two technology revolutions in my life: One was the PC in the 1980s and 1990s. If you have Netflix there’s a series called Halt and Catch Fire that does an excellent job of encapsulating those early years. First there was the 8086 followed by the 8088. Hardly anyone remembers buying a 186 because it was quickly replaced by the 286, which enjoyed a brief moment on the hardware stage before being bumped out by the 386, which became nearly a ubiquitous hardware standard for many years. Sometimes you’d start the year with one PC and finish with another, that’s how fast innovation and change was happening. And they were expensive! $900 in the late 1980s was a lot of money.
The second technology revolution in my life was mobile technology. It started off with expensive phones the size of building brick that had limited range and expensive airtime charges. The first clue I should have had the world was going mobile was when manufacturers started putting cameras in phones. Instead of embracing that revolution, I fought against it. Cell phones were for making phone calls! Yeah, I got that one wrong and more and more of our lives began to center around our phones.
Today the phone I carry is not so much a phone as a mobile internet device that makes voice calls as one of many services. The service is fielded by Google and it’s called Fi. The phone itself is a Nexus 5 with far more processing power than I’ll ever use. It’s basically just a platform for Google’s mobile services. Being away from home and being at home is a seamless experience. And I use the camera...a lot. The camera is so good that I stopped carrying my Sony MX100 M3 everywhere I go.
So Now What?
All the major phone manufacturers are bracing for a slowdown in sales. We’ve finally gotten to the point when phones are powerful enough and battery life is long enough that there are few compelling reasons to buy a new one. My wife doesn’t want a bigger or faster phone, she likes the one she has. She won’t upgrade until she drops the one she has now or it just stops working.
It’s not hardware that’s going to encourage change going forward it’s functionality. That’s why I switched to Google Fi, despite the fact that Google sometimes offers services only to discard them in the future. Google isn’t fielding a phone, many companies do that, Google is selling a service platform. My phone now functions as a GPS device that provides turn-by-turn directions, can find me food when I’m hungry and call a ride when I’m tired. When I have my phone I’m never lost, never alone. It’s the functionality that’s the game changer, not the hardware.
A phone by itself doesn’t do much but an application platform is fertile territory for developers to solve problems. The cellular network then becomes merely a vehicle for your phone to connect to the service platform. Apple comes close to offering that complete user universe but Android has a wider distribution and a larger connected ecosystem.
The future belongs to the system that can provide the most useful and versatile platform and that race isn’t over yet. In fact, it’s just getting started. Surprisingly it’s car manufacturers catching on first. Being able to lock and unlock your car and start it, from your phone, is just the beginning. As your phone becomes more and more the center of your digital world, then it will become the key to unlocking more of your life, including your front door, your thermostat, lights and even kitchen appliances.
Your phone is transitioning away from mere communications to being a command center for your life.