I often get questions about the future role of mobile, many of which stump me, since if you had really wanted to design a less adequate content carrier than the smartphone you would be hard put to know where to start. It is adequately inadequate for reading novels. It has great limitations as a platform technology and if it were not for the fact that we are surrounded by ubiquitous bandwidth and all want to walk and talk at the same time, it is hard to see why we got where we are. I generally mutter words like “transactions” and “fulfilment” and move to the edge of the group in the hope of picking up a hint. OK, I get the tablet and the phablet and the mini-tablet, but I was last completely clear ten years ago when N Negroponte and others said that convergence would take place and everything we did on the move would go into one nano-box. It hasn’t happened, and I have lost the belief that it will. So how will the smartphone transform our lives? My current bet is that it will enable us to talk to the network of objects – and get answers. Lets start with the motor car aka automobile.

Or should I say aka computer? Even my aged machine (I call it Humphrey, fondly imagining its demented efforts to go where it will, not where I am trying to direct it, are pale imitations of civil service passive aggression to my Prime Ministerial decision-making) is a processor that gives up its secrets only to the right people. But OBDII solutions are getting cheaper, as are the scanners that read what the car is thinking about through these interfaces. I am certain that we therefore approach the time when, as you start the vehicle, you smartphone will tell you, having recognized the relationship of owner and driver and activated the Bluetooth, how worn the brake pads are, and that the oil change cannot be further delayed. Indeed, your virtual personal assistant may be already making the appointment. And as your car increasingly morphs into a driverless vehicle (this will relieve Humphrey of a lot of his current uncertainty, since he not me will be reading the satnav, which is an embedded smartphone feature) so your need to talk to it will grow greater. How otherwise will you know about the recall for suspension repairs, or the best place to get snow tyres, or indeed that your tax disc is running out? Increasingly the networked world will talk to your car as well, and that talk will be reported to you as decisions to be made. I believe that we will communicate those decisions mostly by speech: we are poor respondents to email and the power of advertising in conventional media is diminishing. But if the car says, via the smartphone, while you are driving along “Are we getting snow tyres this year, because I have a file here with all the offerings?” we can either say “Yes, bring it on” or “Never mention this in my hearing again, Humphrey”.

So we have a smartphone with satnav and OBDII scanner and we chat away, the car and I, in perfect amity. But where is the factor on the internet that makes all change work? The combination of productivity gain, improved decision making and better compliance that feeds every successful innovation with cost and time reduction that makes things work? I was stumped until this morning, when I chanced upon an announcement from Lexis Nexis Risk Solutions (http://www.lexisnexis.com/risk/telematics.aspx), who have launched Lexis Nexis Telematics Mobile. Their target is the insurer, and the potential future growth of UBI – Usage Based Insurance. Now, if you paid insurance by the month, and your insurer had an interface which showed him how you drove, as well as what your driving record was and how your car was maintained, there would be incentives for careful drivers with properly serviced vehicles to get progressive discounting. Along with greater security from theft, users will for the first time experience vehicle insurance which is not a commodity, based on their address, or their age or gender, but which is a personal reflection of their behaviour. And the monitor for all this, both for the insurer and the user, will be the ubiquitous smartphone.

Now, take this scenario out of the auto world and put it in the context of every day life. When we say that eventually a networked world will change the fundamentals of the way we live, and the smartphone is at the heart of that, then this is what we surely mean. Connect up all those wearable computing devices that measure your heart, your steps, your energy or your brainwaves – and put all those environments into the smartphone, and add the medical insurers. And do not stop until you have covered every human function, extension and attribute. And then calculate the sheer “publishing power” which will be needed to resource and update all these apps, and the software development needed to turn the workflow of life into a conversation with your smartphone, and you are beginning to feel the edges of the cloth from which the future of the information society will be fashioned.


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