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The Race to the Bottom: Information is the Key to the City

The next innovative step in mobile technology is information. He who can easily provide access to the most information will rule. This post is a fourth of a series, the first of which is at this link.

What has been necessary for the success of a mobile operating system has been having a large number of apps. It is why Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS have such a tight lock on the market. If you go back a couple of years, when the laptop or desktop was still your primary internet tool, you did not need all that many apps. Outside of your work, playing games, editing photos, instant messaging, and similar tasks, you probably spent 95% of your time on your personal computer on one app: the Web Browser.

The web browser was your portal to the internet. It made printed encyclopedias and dictionaries obsolete. It reduced your reliance on, and for many, has replaced newspapers and magazines. These printed sources of information provided static information. Information which was correct, close to the date of publication. The Internet provided you with up to the minute information. But when we started reducing our reliance on our personal computers and moved over to mobile devices, many left one important thing behind: reliable 24/7 internet connectivity. So all of a sudden we started downloading offline dictionaries, the CIA Factbooks, collections of cooking recipes, and a lot of informational publications.

If someone were to conduct a study, I think they would find a correlation between the number of apps  person has installed and internet connectivity. Those connected to the internet 24/7 will have less apps on their devices than those who rely on mainly on WiFi. What for open one app to look for the meaning of the word, and another to look for a recipe or a third to get information on some place of interest, when you can simply click on a magnifying glass icon and type, or speak, what you are looking for. A lot of apps on the Google Play or Apple App Store were designed to give offline utility to our mobile devices.

In a way, as we made a step forward in terms of mobility, we made a step back in access to information. This fueled the creation of the large app markets. In turn, this also resulted in the creation of apps that aggregate information from various sources like the highly popular Flipboard. No one really wants to have to go through one or two dozen apps per day, when one app will do. As more users avail of data plans and the available speeds increase, our reliance on a larger number of apps will be reduced.

GoogleNow

There will be no need to have plenty of apps to access information. You will have one super app which will be as dominant as the web browser was to your desktop. Actually, this super app already exists, in its nascent stages. Apple calls it Siri. Google calls it Google Now. Microsoft has christened its version, Cortana. These virtual assistants are the modern day web browser being able to provide you with audio or visual feedback, depending on what is more relevant to the situation. These apps are contextually aware of your location and can provide location-specific information.

It does not mean there will be no money to be made in mobile. There will be. Many of you have already seen how Google Now will alert you that you have to leave a meeting earlier than planned because of traffic conditions. These little reminders will cover more areas over time. Banner ads which we would see in our web browser will be replaced by discrete notifications from your phone that a shoe store nearby is having a sale. Based on your searches and payments made through your online phone, the smart little virtual assistant on your phone, tablet or piece of wearable technology will have a pretty good idea of what you like. Your device will remind you that it is time to have your car’s oil changed, and subtly add that XYZ service center just a mile away is offering 50% off on oil this week if you service your car there. When buying the new shoe or paying for the service done on your car, instead of reaching for your wallet, you grab your smartphone instead.

Smartphones and tablets which are today launched in lavish events and cheered on like rockstars, will become commoditized. In the same way that personal computer hardware became commonplace and boring, smartphones and tablets will get to this point. The latest and the greatest becomes less relevant each year. Buyers will be less willing to part with their money for the premium priced models, when a much lower cost unit will do. Large established manufacturers will be under more and more pressure from companies willing to accept lower margins. Yes, it will be like the PC industry, where margins per sale have diminished and old players like IBM and HP have moved or are moving away from hardware and more into services.

While Apple and Google, directly or through their partners happily extol the benefits of the latest hardware and publish app store numbers, take a look at their recent investments.  Microsoft despite what seem like almost insurmountable odds refuses to quit, even to the extent of entering hardware manufacture directly. These three are already gearing up for the business of providing more convenient access to information, easier payments and access services.

The smartphone and tablet manufacturers have really been in a race to the bottom, no matter what anyone may tell you. All this did happen after all, not so long ago.