Going Mobile

April 17, 2012

What drives a new technology?  Style, form, function, ease of use?  All of these things play a part, but combined they point to an end question-will people use it?  If it were just a matter of building it and throwing marketing some money we would all be listening to Adele on a Zune.  Ultimately, it is about adoption.  Good, bad, or indifferent, it is the iGeneration that drives this market.  Without a degree in engineering or a background in development, younger users are determining which path we travel.  This is nowhere more evident than in the growth of the mobile device.

There are currently more mobile devices on Planet Earth than there are working toilets.  There are over 4 billion mobile phones in use today, and almost 2 billion are smartphones.  Over 3 billion are SMS (text) enabled.  And people use them.

Over half of all local searches are now done on a mobile device.  That’s a lot of SIRI.  The second largest search engine (behind Google, of course) is YouTube.  200 million YouTube videos are seen on mobile devices every day.  Of the 600 million+ who are using Facebook, a full 200 million do so through their device.  That number goes from a third to a full half for Twitter.  Is Twitter onto something?  People spend more time playing on their smartphones than they do eating.  Feeding their digital hunger?

SIRIPart of what has driven this “Move to Mobile” has been a remarkably robust app market.  There are mobile tools for play, for lifestyle, for work, and more.  You can check your social status, play Angry Birds, read a book, or hang a picture.  Musicians can plug a guitar into a mobile device and have access to a plethora of pedals, sounds, amplifiers, and effects.  It’s an Eddie Van Halen stage setup in your pocket.

More and more, the smartphone has become our portal from a virtual world to a real one.  NFC technology is allowing users to wave, swipe, and bump their devices through payments, doorways, and various other uses.  Starbucks began offering a “virtual card” application early in 2011.  Users open the Starbucks app, add credit to an account, and then display a bar code on their device when purchasing their latte.  Starbucks has processed 42 million mobile cups of java since the app was introduced.

Coffee ShopThe challenge for vendors and institutions is protecting the integrity of the payment environment.  If you go out of town, you may give a key to a neighbor to water your plants.  How many have sent someone to run an errand with the direction, “Here, take my credit card.”  Many have offered a trusted friend or relative a debit card, complete with PIN number.  This equation changes if your key or financial card is found or stolen.

Many argue that it should be the service provider who secures the transaction.  The difficulty is the ability of a provider offering approved apps that would be available, much less remain secure, over a wide range of systems and devices.  That issue will continue to grow, as users don’t buy a phone based on encryption or the ability to house an identity.   The purchase of a device is driven by the cool things that it can do.  But the device itself offers multi-level security discover this.  Look at the iTunes model.

When you purchase an iPhone or iPod, plugging it into your desktop will allow you to “register” that device with the machine.  You are offered a password for your machine, and one for the device.  These devices can now be forever linked, with one recognizing the other.  You can then set up your iTunes Store purchases to require a password, prohibiting unauthorized purchases.  So your desktop is protected, your device is protected, and purchases from the store are protected.

The stumbling block is the ease of use.  Over half of all smartphone users say that they don’t use a PIN or password to lock their device.  Almost that many surveyed say that using a password for every action is a pain in the neck.  Is there a possibility that the solution is a two-kernel device?  The theory is already being tested in business applications.  Much like your device is “segregated” between productivity and play apps, some are offering connectivity between a personal device and work through a dedicated kernel.  The virus or gaping hole in your Words with Friends app will not expose your valuable work content to security flaws.

If there is one market that has been progressive in its use of mobile, it’s pizza.  Pizza delivery has long been a staple of campus life.  Companies like Domino’s and Pizza Hut has long been offering apps that allow you to log in, browse specials and deals, customize your pizza, pay for it, and send the order.  Users can then track their manna from the rolling of the dough to the application of sauce.  They are alerted when the pepperoni is applied, and when it enters the driver’s car.

If we can apply all of this functionality to the delivery of a pizza, can a fully mobile-integrated campus be far behind?