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Happy birthday iPhone

By Retail Technology | Tuesday July 4 2017

The iPhone is a decade old but what has been its true effect on consumers and what may the future hold? Matthew Knight, head of strategic innovation at media agency Carat, provides some answers

Wow – ten years? Apple introduced the world to the iPhone, and without doubt, this product has been more defining of the current consumer experience than practically any other device. It’s touch-responsive which provided the only input interface, its notion of ‘apps’, its ability to connect to both cellular and wifi networks – these all defined not only the products which came after it, but also many of the interface and behavioural norms we know now.

Today, smartphone penetration is nearing ubiquity. Low cost handsets which offer similar functionality to high-end devices have flooded the market, and we talk endlessly about a mobile-first mindset when designing experiences. The powerful computer in your pocket created an always-on, ever-connected smart layer which sits on top of the physical world. Checking a price at shelf, finding a suitable outlet nearby, asking questions to people who aren’t with you, adding items to a notepad for later – just a tiny handful of how smartphones have exploded the notion of the sales ‘funnel’.
Looking forward though, what does the next ten years look like? Will mobile continue to have the dominance it does today? It’s incredibly hard to predict two to three years in the future – but if one thing is clear, it’s that ready access to information and services via mobile technology will continue to be the dominant behaviour – whether or not the device is the dominant interface is a better question.

I believe we’ll see three significant shifts in mobile over the next decade.

1. Interfaces will simplify and distribute
2. Your phone will become less personal, more shared.
3. Your phone will become nothing more than an identity module.

The touchscreen phone is currently a brilliant multipurpose device, but not always the best interface for each task at hand. Small keyboards are poor for typing. Small screens are poor for big content. Small speakers are poor for brilliant sound. We’ll see more connectivity between our smartphones and other devices to create the best possible interface experience. Spotify already allows you to pick which speakers it plays to. Your heart monitor already provides a sensor which uses your phone as a screen. Your echo can send content to your phone after initiating a conversation with voice. 

This ecosystem of devices using each other’s capabilities to the best ability means we’re less restricted to the small screen of the device. Imagine the large digital six sheet on a bus-stop providing access to content which is relevant for your journey planning on city mapper. Imagine the smart speaker providing the microphone and speaker for your phone-call home. The windscreen in your car providing the visualisation of the route mapping. All connected via your phone. The phone itself becomes less relevant, the interface selected upon the most appropriate tool for the job.

As each interface starts to contain more of the experience and processing power, and as more content lives in the cloud, rather than on the storage device of your phone – the phone itself becomes less personal. You don’t keep actual money on your payment card – it’s just a key to unlock access to money. The phone becomes the same – no content is stored on the phone but rather in the cloud, and the device can be shared, it’s no longer yours, just a portal to your information. In fact, pick up any device, and it becomes yours, personalised, with access to your content and preferences, and smart predictive caching enables you to do what you need to do with speed and ease.
We reach a point where the device doesn’t matter. You don’t need to carry a large screen in your pocket, you can just pick one up. All you need to have with you is the SIM (Subscriber Identify Module) card and some sort of connectivity (the Bluetooth and Wifi probably) to identify you as you, and then the interface powers-up with your preferences. Most people probably will – but the SIM could be as simple as a ring, a necklace, a watch, even embedded within your body.

Truth is, this might be all be nonsense, and none of it may come to pass, but can you afford to sit back and not think about the potential future? And what does this mean for today? How can retailers and brands make best use of where the next developments in mobile will take us?

1. Design mobile-first: If you’re not already thinking about what the mobile experience for your consumers looks like, you’re probably already two or three years late to the party, but it’s not too late to prioritise your mobile experience and think about what mobile layers of service could be added to your experience or product.
2. Design experience-first: Don’t ask ‘what role can mobile play?’, but rather ‘what is the best experience for our consumers?’ There is a wealth of options for where the interface and experience plays out- but ultimately it’s about connected experiences. Think about where your consumers face bottlenecks or challenges, and how different mobile technology can play a role – whether it be mobile apps and mobile web, but also voice, beacon technology, AR and VR.
3. Think holistically: Don’t expect that an experience needs to start and end in the same channel. Allow consumers to continue their experience over multiple touchpoints and enable the journey. Browsing might start on mobile, but finish on desktop. Search might start on voice and end up on mobile.
4. Measure holistically: And recognise that different parts of the journey have different types of value for you and the consumer. Understand how the connected experience works, and how to optimise for that, not just the sales conversion, then you’ll be ready to add new parts and interfaces to your ecosystem as they come online.
5. Invest in test: try things which are emerging in your category – voice, try before you buy, AR, bots, predictive commerce. Be ahead and create the case studies that your competitors will be looking at in December around future trends, and set the curve rather than chasing after it.

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