Tip of the Quill: A Journal
On the possibilities of an “all-mobile environment”.

A few weeks ago, the Annenberg Innovation Lab held our Spring 2014 Think & Do event. Much like the “New Screens: Re-Envisioning Home Entertainment” Think & Do we held back in the fall, this one focused on one of the four core areas of the lab’s Edison Project. This time around, the focus was on New Funding + Business Models, specifically on the new possibilities that start to appear in an all-mobile environment.

Here, have some videos. First, the preview of the event:

Think & Do Preview from USC Annenberg Innovation Lab on Vimeo.

And here, the recap video of the event:

AIL Think & Do Workshop: Recap – Business Models in an All Mobile Environment from USC Annenberg Innovation Lab on Vimeo.

“But wait,” I hear you saying. “What do you mean by an all-mobile environment?”

I’m so glad you asked! If the numbers we’re seeing bear out, there will be a whopping five billion smartphone users worldwide by 2016. Billion. With a B.

To put that into perspective, the entire world population as of July 2013 was 7.149 billion. That means that 70% of all human beings on the planet will be smartphone users within 24 months.

Further, some (admittedly slightly older) additional research from Forrester predicts that by 2016 the tablet market will only have an install base of 760 million, and the total number of PCs in use will be only 2 billion.

This is because a lot of places, especially such “next markets” like Africa and Asia, are going straight to mobile phones, and not bothering with PCs or even tablets at all. And why would they? Google’s Project Ara modular smartphone is aiming to start at $50, in 2012 Wikipedia’s Jimmy Wales pointed out the huge disruption of the $50 smartphone in Africa, and in 2013 Manoj Kohli, CEO of big-in-India-and-Africa carrier Bharti Airtel, called for a $30 smartphone.

“Ah, but that’s just in emerging markets,” you say. Not so fast. Those of us that were born in the late 1970s and early 1980s are considered the first generation of digital natives, but the kids I’m meeting now are the first generation of mobile natives, who grew up not just with the Internet, but with smartphones and tablets. To some of these kids, laptops look as archaic as mainframes do to us older folks.

Yes, screens on these mobile devices are tiny, but they’re about to get even smaller, and that’s how they get REALLY BIG – according to Google, the screen on Glass is equivalent to a 25 inch high definition screen from eight feet away. (As a Glass Explorer, I can testify that it doesn’t exactly feel like that, but it’s pretty damn impressive.)

Long story short, it took 10 years, but the Personal Communications Network I predicted back in 2004 is finally – finally! – coming into play. We’re going to surrender our laptops for tablets – and then those tablets are going to shatter into multiple wearable components: ocular devices, wrist devices (which will offer a simple input device) and then, perhaps, a more complicated but more elegant, likely AR-driven input system akin to Pranav Mistry’s Sixth Sense prototype from the MIT Media Lab. We’re already seeing the first prototypes in products like Meta’s SpaceGlasses. The biggest limitations on these experiences are cost and battery life, and folks are scrambling to crack those problems as we speak.

OK, so I called the emergence of the wearable computing space 10 years ahead of schedule. Want my next prediction? It’s even simpler, because it’s already happening right now.

I think the rise of the wearable computing space is only feasible courtesy of the co-development of the Internet of Things. We’re seeing the long-awaited emergence of the “Connected World” – by which I mean the Connected Home + the Connected City + everything else, similar to what Adam Greenfield predicted in his terrific 2006 book Everyware: The Dawning Age of Ubiquitous Computing.

It’s possible that we’ll see the rise of “frame computers“, as Forrester predicts, but I’m more convinced that we’ll see even those go away. Sure, we’ll have Bluetooth keyboards that sync to our ocular devices (I haven’t tried it, but I’d be hugely surprised if someone hasn’t already hacked this together to work with Glass using an Android phone or tablet as a CPU), but I’m more convinced that we’ll see the perfection of VUI (vocal/voice user interface) systems like Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana or IBM’s Watson, and we’ll simply speak to the world. And, through our AR lenses and emotion-sensing (and subtly-nudging) wearable devices, the world will reply. We’ll walk through the world and it’ll whisper tales to us, and we’ll experience the real world differently in real time, the way that we now experience the world differently after we’ve seen a particular movie or read a particular book about a place.

The age of context is upon us, and in this age of wearables + the connected world, everything will be more immediate. More personal. More transformative. More hyperlocal and just in time. More social, damn near telepathic.

We’re laying the groundwork for this as we speak, and I’m increasingly convinced that this is the Next Boom. According to Credit Suisse, the wearables market could generate $30B – $50B globally in the next few years alone.

This is the world that storytellers, media makers, entrepreneurs, and innovators can play with now. Many of them already have been! Check out the forward-thinking experiences from experience designers like Six to Start or Eric Klopfer, Cristobal Garcia and Michael Epstein, or the scores of ARG designers who have been looking at the world differently for years. Look at things like the Disney StoryLight, and other experiments with the Connected Home, or experiences like Agent P’s World Showcase Adventure at EPCOT that show how a Connected City might tell you a story. And that’s just the start.

Some possible additional perks of the all-mobile, or mobile-centric, environment? Fewer couch potatoes. More tourists. More family walks. More exploration. Want to get truly hyperbolic? The world has grown too sedentary and too complacent because media has become too “anything you want, anytime you want it”. In this new world, when we ask for something, the world will be able to say, “Here, get up and come with me, and I’ll show you.”

Yeah, it might take another ten years. (I seem to be good at that, having essentially predicted Skylanders and Disney Infinity by 10 years too.) But this time around, I really, really doubt it. There’s too much on the line, there are too many people who really need there to be another boom, and the technology is coming together to make this happen very quickly. Google’s $3.2B acquisition of Nest was a big step, Apple’s inclusion of iBeacons in iOS 7 (and its boost in 7.1) was another big step, and if Apple does debut an iWatch this year, that’ll be huge. Imagine if Apple were to truly pull a Jobsian “one more thing” and unveil a Google Glass-style ocular device at the same time: that would be a truly seismic change. I hate the phrase “paradigm shift,” but here it might be applicable.

Me, I’m starting to tinker with experiences for these kinds of platforms. I’ll share more later in the year, as I have more to show off, but that’s what I’m thinking a lot about these days. (Well, one of the things I’m thinking a lot about these days. 🙂 )