By now it’s clear that mobile is the new global frontier for computing. People on every continent are embracing mobile as the primary method for electronic communications.
Increasingly, many are also using mobile computing for a myriad of day-to-day activities, from purchasing products and services to testing blood insulin levels. Five billion people now use cellphones — about 62 percent of the planet’s population — compared to less than two billion who have a personal computer.
Within just a few years more people will access the Internet from a mobile device than from any other technology.
In developing nations the cellphone is a tool of empowerment; it has the power to change economic and political landscapes. In developed nations it is disrupting existing business models and introducing completely new ones. Mobile is enabling us to reinvent everything from healthcare to payment systems.
Smartphones, a subset of the mobile market at a little less than one billion users and growing quickly, has become a domain of hyper-innovation. Fierce competition from big players such as Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Research in Motion (RIM), is driving the rapid delivery of new, innovative capability. The lifespan of a new device or version of an operating system is been compressed. The market appetite continues to grow and there are no signs of fatigue. In fact, the accompanying mobile applications industry is booming. In just over two years, consumers have downloaded 10 billion apps from Apple alone.
Suddenly the PC looks like yesterday, while mobile is today and tomorrow.
It’s time to act
For an IT leader, mobile is a game-changer. Unlike many other emerging technologies where an immediate strategy is not a concern, mobile is front and center now to your users and customers. This requires new thinking with regard to how data is accessed and presented, how applications are architected, what kind of technical talent is brought on board, and how companies can meet the increasingly high expectations of users.
As if there wasn’t enough pressure already!
There are two audiences for mobile applications and capability: your internal audience and the customers you serve in the marketplace. Both have different needs, but both have expectations that have already been set. The benchmark is not your best internal web-based app; instead, it is the most recent best-in-class mobile app that any one of your users or customers have recently downloaded. While your internal users might be more forgiving for a less than optimum user-experience, you’re pretty much guaranteed your external users won’t be.
Many IT leaders are not yet fully embracing mobile (I’m not talking about email and calendar access here — those are the essential basics). Part of the reluctance to fully come to terms with mobile is simply change fatigue. Remember, the move to the web is still in full swing and many organizations still struggle with core system integration issues. But another part of the issue is that the magnitude of the change ahead is not well understood. A mobile strategy is not the equivalent of making your web applications accessible via a mobile device. In the short-term, that may suffice for some (but barely). In the medium-term a mobile strategy means thinking completely differently about the user experience.
In the world of mobile, IT leaders and business stakeholders must consider how new capability such as geolocation, sensors, near field communications, cameras, voice, and touch can be integrated into functionality. It also means that core issues such as security, device form-factor, and limited screen real-estate must be addressed.
Mobile crashed the party
For a time there was a positive trend trajectory where the ubiquity of browsers on computers were making application development almost hardware agnostic. This was a great story and it had a decent run. The proliferation of devices and operating systems in the mobile space is a considerable spoiler. Now, any mobile application worth its salt must have versions — at minimum — for the web, for the iPhone, and for the Android platforms (that’s the basics before you consider others such as the BlackBerry, iPad, and Windows Phone). That may mean multiple development and design efforts.
In other words, just when IT leaders were beginning to see some platform stability, everything changed.
Not all industries will need to adopt mobile strategies at the same rate and not all industries will have to deal with providing solutions for their end-users in the near-term. There is no question that if your product or service is business-to-consumer and it already supports a good deal of its business via the web, then this scenario demands an aggressive approach to mobile. While this offers some consolation for everyone else, it’s merely temporal in nature.
Every business and every IT leader will need to quickly find the right response to the momentum that is nothing less than a mobile revolution.
At the end of the day, those of us who work with technology do it because of these types of major disruptions. The move to mobile represents yet another technology cycle that we must embrace. These cycles often start and end in different places. Who could have imagined that the web would change so much about our world in the way it has? I think it’s fair to say that mobile has the capacity to change the world in ways we cannot even fathom today.
I don’t know about you, but that makes me excited about our industry and the future.