Yesterday I attended the kick off of Apple’s annual developer conference, WWDC. I was fortunate enough to attend last year as well, but unlike last year which was all about new hardware, this time the keynote was all about developers. There was also a maybe not-so-subtle undertone of the direction Apple is taking then it comes to connected devices, and in particular your home. To me, the two stand out announcements of the morning were CloudKit and HomeKit.
We hear the term mobile revolution almost every day. There is no doubt that mobile, and the app ecomony, is a fundamental part of our daily lives. Today’s apps are very different to those created even last year. Does Apple’s announcements give us a glimpse into what tomorrow’s apps look like? If the popular axiom, the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior holds true, the answer may be right in front of us.
First Age of Mobile: Desktop Mobile Apps
Back in 2003, the first Blackberry phone with integrated email and web capabilities was introduced. As revolutionary as it was, the killer feature was connectivity. For the first time, people could easily stay connected with their business or private lives from anywhere. Blackberry also introduced an email enabled pager back in 1999, but it wasn’t until connectivity was offered on the phone (a consumer device) did users see a shift in their daily lives.
Apps in the first age of mobile were basic: calendar, email, clock, stocks, and basic web capabilities. Design focused on lifting the desktop experience and putting it on a smaller form factor (the phone). Apps were driven with trackballs and keypads, and enabled system-to-system communication.
Second Age of Mobile: User-Centric Mobile Apps
In June, 2007 Apple introduced the iPhone. All of a sudden, the concept of a desktop mobile app was destroyed. User-centric mobile apps were born where users could tap, swipe, and tilt to unlock entirely new ways of interacting with the digital world. No longer was the focus of apps about connectivity, apps had evolved to make user’s lives – primarily their consumer lives – easier.
The second age of mobile fostered collaboration. Not surprisingly, during this age, many social networks such as Yelp and Facebook grew in popularity as a means of sharing. These sites translated easily to the mobile experience with mobile-first social networks such as FourSquare and Twitter capitalizing on new mobile features such as geolocation and camera. During this era Facebook also introduced tagging in photos putting users squarely in the center of the conversation.
On the enterprise side, mobile apps were slow to evolve. Connectivity was still a major impediment to custom mobile apps for business. Organizations that did deploy mobile apps for their employees often built atop cloud platforms like salesforce.com which provided an innovation layer beyond corporate firewalls, but widespread adoption of mobile apps in the enterprise never took hold.
Current Age of Mobile: Experience-based Mobile Apps
Over the past few years there has been a shift in mobile apps from transactions to experiences. Many current mobile apps, and the startups behind them, have focused on reinventing the experience of existing processes. Mary Meeker’s 2013 Internet Trends report highlighted dozens of entire industries that are being re-imagined thanks to the current age of mobile; from advertising, automotive, publishing, and many more.
Future Age of Mobile: Pervasive Mobile Apps
The future age of mobile will be about pervasive mobile apps. Apple’s Touch ID, CloudKit and HeathKit fall squarely into this space. And they are not the only ones. Google has been focusing on wearable devices and self-driving cars, and GE betting on the Internet of Things. If history is our guide, the first phase of this evolution will be about connectivity. APIs will unlock information across every industry and business. The more open your connectivity strategy is, the more pervasive your business, brand, and product will be.
Pervasive connectivity will give way to pervasive experiences. It will start with mobile on things we interact with to cause an action: watches, FitBit bands, devices, anything that we could touch, tap, or read. The next wave of start-ups will be centered around embedded device providers. Eventually touch will become commonplace, and Beacons will be the new buzzword.
Finally, the term mobile will disappear. Everything will be mobile, there will be no notion of not being connected. Experiences will be re-imagined to a point where consumers and employees are passive participants in the mobile landscape. We are already seeing this with devices such as Nest that knows when you are home, and the XBox One that recognizes you when you step in front of the camera. Facebook’s recent acquisition of Oculus VR hints squarely at the pervasive nature of the next wave of innovation.
In summary, we are in an incredible age of mobile re-imagination based around the user experience. As technology and business advances to a pervasive mobile environment where everyone is connected everywhere, we risk loosing this user-centric approach. The axiom the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior will be the difference between successful organizations of tomorrow. These organizations will always recognize that behind every app, regardless on whether it is on a mobile phone, smart watch, jet engine, or beacon, is a user, and every user – consumer or employee – is a customer. Apple has made a bold move, they’ve given developers the tools the need to start building apps for the fourth age of mobile. I for one am onboard. Xcode 6 and iOS8 are up and running. Now for the fun stuff!