Mobile phones and tablets are becoming the remote controls of our daily lives. Smartphones are the new digital hub for a growing percentage of consumers, while tablets are starting to rule the personal computing landscape at home and at work. In a previous post, I elaborated on why I think tablets are not mobile devices per se. Moving forward, new mobile form factors will emerge, and we expect wearable computing to gain traction. The definition of mobility is likely to evolve, but what’s certain is that increasingly connected devices will enable us to interact with the world around us by leveraging a host of new technologies packaged into smarter devices — be they QR codes, NFC, image recognition, Bluetooth 4.0, new sensors, etc. The physical world will be a catalyst for spontaneous interactions and for commerce via mobile devices. I think we’re only scratching the surface of new mobile behaviors (and what those will lead to), but mobile devices will become the primary digital connection to your customers.
Clients frequently ask me about the big picture: How is consumer computing changing, and what’s coming next? My new Forrester report, published today, takes on that question. It’s called “Smart Body, Smart World,” and it describes the paradigm shift in computing that we see happening now. Computing has evolved from the mainframe to the desktop to the shoulder bag to the pocket, and now computing is taking over new frontiers: Our physical bodies and the physical environments we inhabit.
When we look at new, sensor-laden devices (SLDs) like the larklife or Progressive Snapshot,we see the beginnings of a new phase of personal computing that will transform the way we live and work. Sensor-collected data, when combined with intelligence and advice, will influence our decision-making and self-expression in domains as diverse as health, finance, shopping, navigation, relationships, work, and communication. SLDs could take any shape; in this report, we talk about them in two broad categories:
Wearables. “Wearables”—devices worn in or on the body—include accessories like Google Glass or the Nike+ FuelBand, but can also include electronics actually enmeshed in our skin and organs like the “electronic tattoos” developed by Nanshu Lu at the University of Texas at Austin, or the heads-up display contact lenses developed by researchers at Washington University (one of whom, Babak Parviz, is now leading Project Glass at Google).
Today, Microsoft announced pricing and availability for the Windows RT version of the Microsoft Surface ($499 for 32GB, not including the “Touch Cover,” available for preorder today, shipping 10/26). This product is intended to be a pure consumer play; Microsoft also plans to launch a Windows 8 version of the Surface, aimed at enterprises, for which it has not yet announced pricing. Yesterday, I spent the day with the Surface team led by Steven Sinofsky and Panos Panay, and I learned many things: Sinofsky is from Florida, for example, and when he stands on a Surface that’s attached to skateboard wheels, it doesn’t break. I learned about the importance of optically bonded displays, saw nifty 3D printers making plastic models, and heard about the many trips to China required to perfect the Surface manufacturing process. I was told many examples of the Surface team’s attention to detail, down to the sound design of the kickstand closure.
I did not hear, however, the answers to the most pertinent questions asked by our clients, many of whom are product strategists in Microsoft’s partner ecosystem (OEMs, ISVs, and potential app developers like media companies, banks, and retailers). Will Surface expand distribution beyond Microsoft’s stores and website? If Microsoft believes it’s making the “best hardware for Windows,” as Sinofsky told us, how does it expect its OEM partners to respond? No comment on both fronts.
We’ve seen many dazzling new consumer technology products launch in 2012, with many more expected by year end. Amid the bang of the Microsoft Surface, iPhone 5, and Google Nexus, it would be easy to miss the quieter product launch today of the larklife, the second product released by Lark Technologies, a 21-person startup located in a Mountain View shopping center. As I’ve been researching my soon-to-launch report on the bigger story of wearables, Lark caught my eye, and I was completely blown away by the demo I saw of their new product last week.
Since the beginning of the year (with a peak in July, thanks to this Bloomberg article), there have been rumors that Apple would launch an iPad mini with a 7.85-inch display. Speculation is now high that the launch could be announced October 17 — a week prior to the big Microsoft buzz about Windows 8 and in due time for the holiday rush and the seasonal year-end sales — in an attempt to lock new tablet buyers in to the iOS ecosystem. The biggest iPad mini conundrum is likely to be pricing — making sure that the new device remains competitive in the face of the iPad 2 and iPad 3 and the newly launched iPod Touch but also with Google's $199 Nexus 7 and the new $199 Kindle Fire HD. Don’t count on me to comment on rumors and share my personal take on the features the device could have, etc. Some of my colleagues are better placed than I am to make a call and will do so in due time.
Let’s step back from the hype for one moment.
It took two years for Apple to sell 67 million iPads versus 24 years to sell 67 million Macs. It took the company two years to sell one million iPods. Arguably, the iPod, coupled with the iTunes ecosystem, disrupted the music industry. Needless to say, new connected devices — mostly smartphones and tablets — will be even more disruptive. Forrester forecasts an installed base of 760 million tablets globally by 2016, and my colleague Frank Gillett has explained why we believe that tablets will run the personal computing landscape at work and at home.
The silver lining on Apple's iOS6 Maps App snafu is that it has fueled much humorous poking. My favorite so far is the photo going around Facebook of Tom Hanks in "Cast Away." There is also a blog called "The Amazing iOS 6 Maps" that includes a collection of Maps mishaps sent in by users. It seems that negative product and service experiences often turn into comedy (remember "United Breaks Guitars"?). A funny photo or link shared on Facebook is often how product issues are initially brought to our attention.
Mobile website or mobile app? It's not only a common question from marketers -- it’s also the wrong question to ask. So let’s get this out of the way first, interactive marketers: You need a mobile-optimized or mobile-specific website. If you don’t want to take my word for it, check your organic web traffic. Odds are, you’ll see anywhere from 10%-25% of your web traffic coming from mobile devices, whether you’re intending to capture that mobile traffic or not. That percentage has been growing steadily and will continue to, so yes, you need to have a mobile web home. I’m glad that’s settled.
Whether or not you need a mobile app for marketing is a little less clear-cut. To decide, once and for all, if you should really build that mobile app, ask yourself these three most important questions:
1. Is my audience using apps?
Yes, about half of US adults have a smartphone, but that doesn’t automatically mean they’re using it in sophisticated ways. You can likely find users of all ages among those who have apps, but demographics affect the size of your app audience. For example, about one-third of smartphone app users are Gen Y (ages 23-31), and another third are Gen X (ages 32-45). Make sure you understand the app habits of your own audience before you decide what to build.