The role of mobile in 2014

At the very heart of the role that mobile has played in 2014 is one simple fact: it has connected us. The utilisation of mobile technology in 2014 connects us to each other and it connects us to the world around us; a trend that only looks to continue in the years to come.

In 2014 we undoubtedly live in a mobile-first society. This year the amount of mobile devices overtook that of desktops globally and for the fourth year running mobile is the only media industry that’s growing – TV, Radio and Print have all declined whereas mobile is on the rise.

For 80% of those who own a mobile device, it’s the first and last thing they look at every day; a statistic that most people reading this will undoubtedly identify with. We can see the evidence of our mobile first society all around us: go to any public place, or on any form of public transport, and there will always be people, certainly a majority on the latter, looking at a mobile device.

We’re in an age now where mobile is with us from the very beginning. Every child born in 2014 is undoubtedly going to be a mobile native: someone who will grow up immersed in an ever-increasing level of connectivity both to others and to the world.

This year, for example, saw an increase in the use of tablets and other mobile devices in classrooms; a trend that only looks to become more common. Moreover, it’s predicted that by 2020 there will be a total of 75 billion connected mobile devices, almost 10 times the population of earth!

Mobile is connecting us to each other in a way that we’ve never really experienced before, but more than that, it’s also connecting us with the world around us. The Internet of Things (IoT) is a phrase that has become more and more common over the last few years, and it’s undoubtedly  one of the most interesting ways that mobile is connecting us to the world.

Ask a hundred people for a definition of the IoT and you’ll get a hundred different answers, but at its core, the IoT is the name given to the interconnection of devices in our lives. It’s the idea that our household items, from our phones to our fridges to our cars, will all be embedded with communications chips that turn them into interconnected smart devices connected to the Internet.

One example of how the IoT could work can be captured in an ordinary trip to the supermarket. You’re walking down the aisle and the handle of your trolley vibrates, a screen attached to it tells you that since you’ve left the house you’ve run out of milk but, good news, you can pick some up just around the corner.

What’s happened is that your fridge, now a smart fridge, has realised that you’re out of milk. It’s sent a message to your phone which has then sent a message to your trolley which knows where in the store you’re located and lets you know that you’re just around the corner from the milk. Then you just walk out of the store, your trolley knows what you’ve bought, it uses non contactless payment to charge you and you get emailed a receipt; simple.

This might seem like a slightly mundane example, but it demonstrates the idea at the heart of the IoT: that mobile will allow us to connect all aspects of our lives in order to be more streamlined and efficient.

New mobile technology, such as iBeacons for example, is a specific utilisation of mobile that is helping to connect us to the world around us. iBeacons, whilst the name Apple chose for their use of Bluetooth Low Energy technology, has become virtually synonymous for beacon technology as a whole – tiny, low cost, Bluetooth transmitters that connect and communicate to mobile devices within a certain range.

Their main use at the moment is in retail: a customer walking through a store will get specific offers sent to their mobile when they’re in range of certain beacons. The scope of beacon technology however depends very much on the creativity and vision of its users.

Restaurants can have beacons on tables which open a menu on your phone when you sit down; in an art gallery or museum, as you walk towards a painting, up comes information on your phone with the ability to order a print on the way out; in gyms, beacons could connect with your phone on the way out of the changing rooms and automatically play ‘Eye of the Tiger’!

The utilisation of mobile within the IoT therefore works on a personal level, but when used on a much wider scale, the IoT can also connect us on a global level. Barcelona is a good example of this: a ‘smart city’ which is at the forefront of utilising the IoT.

Numerous parking spots in Barcelona are, for example, connected to weight sensors where, once you’ve parked, it sends your ticket to a dedicated payment app. There are sensors for noise and environmental pollution along with traffic and weather conditions which allows local authorities to streamline city operations, provide better environmental management and reduce costs.

Street lights have been fitted with motion sensors, diming to conserve energy when there are no pedestrians in the vicinity. Public bins are fitted with sensors that monitor rubbish levels so disposal services can plan their routes as and when they’re needed and bus stops have real time information on the positions of buses and a host of other information that a commuter might need.

According to Barcelona’s Deputy Mayor, the city’s embrace of mobile will transform it into “a city of culture, creativity, knowledge, but mainly fairness and wellbeing: a place where people live near where they work, a city self-sufficient in energy; a zero emission city and a city hyper connected to the world.”  A noble goal, and one which encompasses the fact that mobile’s primary role is to connect us, not just to each other but to the world around us.

And yet so many people see this proliferation of mobile through society as intrinsically negative! They bemoan it is humanity becoming automated, as it losing its ability to communicate with each other, whereas, in reality, the opposite is true.

Mobile connects us, it brings us together. It gives us so many new ways to communicate and to share. The people sitting on public transport, looking at their mobiles, are in the middle of conversations with other people, sometimes more than one.

They’re reading the news, they’re sharing what’s important to them and reading what’s important to other people – even if sometimes it’s a sneezing panda or goats that scream like humans. The Internet of Things utilises technology to connect us to the world, to make life more streamlined and efficient, carrying on the human tradition of constant innovation.

The role of mobile in 2014 is, as it has always been, to connect us. And as 2015, 16, 17, 18, 19 and 2020, with its 75 billion mobile devices, rolls around, the opportunity to utilise mobile to bring us together is only going to get greater.