It has become customary in the technology industry to break out the crystal ball at year end and confidently make pronouncements on what will be “the next big thing.” Everyone has their top 10 technologies; many of them are almost identical. This either means that everyone is dead-on in their predictions, or that everyone is telling us something we already know.
So instead of cobbling together another “Top 10 Technologies for 2012,” I want to begin the year with a look at two concepts that I believe will see the most innovation and have the greatest impact in 2012: mobility, and its enabling technology, connectivity.
These are technologies that you can hold in your hand, literally, but they are also ideas that continue to take computing and communication farther from their roots, both physically and conceptually.
You are correct in thinking that these concepts are not new; we’ve had practical mobile phones for almost 40 years. But as “wirelessness” continues to permeate our everyday life and the workplace—often blurring the lines between the two—they are raising expectations and setting new standards of performance at home and at work.
The Future is Mobile
No form of communication seems to be tied down anymore, except for the brief time when digital devices need their batteries recharged. Aside from that, virtually every task and every bit of information you need to run your life can be right there in your hand—no physical connections, no wires and (almost) no limits on where you can work and play.
Mobile devices are everywhere. There are smart phones, not-so-smart phones and phones that are just phones; tablets (the iPad rules this space); e-readers devoted just to books, and e-readers with other capabilities (Nook, Kindle and Kindle Fire); and devices with dedicated capabilities for healthcare, retail and other industries.
More than five billion mobile phones are in use in the world today. In fact, U.K.-based The Mobile World says there are more phones in the world than there are people. Nearly one billion are in China and another 327 million are in the U.S.
Sales of the iPad topped 15 million in the nine months following its release. Sales of 40 million are predicted for 2011. Juniper Research predicts 67 million dedicated e-readers will be sold in 2016, with 25 million coming to market in 2011.
What began as a telecommunications device has become an entertainment center, a classroom, a library, a music store and a workstation. For most people, it is virtually impossible to isolate yourself from work while you are at home, and visa versa. The temptation is to always be “on,” lest you miss something important in the place you are not at, and the people you are not with.
What all of this means is a dramatic improvement in individual and group productivity. Documents and applications can be shared in real time at a lower cost, project calendars can be synchronized, and messages can be reviewed no matter where the sender or recipient is located.
A mobile workforce is more flexible to respond to changing market conditions, giving some companies a clear competitive advantage. And as mobile devices proliferate, the cost of devices, apps and content continue to fall. Expect all of this and more to continue in the year ahead.
Connecting the Dots
The hyper-mobility of today’s society and workplace would not even be imaginable without the connectivity to tie devices and people together into useful networks. Radio and television were mere curiosities until an infrastructure of broadcasters made it possible to receive signals in virtually every home. Likewise, mobile devices are paperweights without a physical infrastructure to take advantage of their full potential.
In the U.S. and some foreign countries, that infrastructure has arrived. Depending on the wireless carrier, service coverage can be nearly 100 percent. So whether you are in a farm field in North Dakota, an office in Detroit or on the golf course in Arizona, your personal and business connections can be with you instantly.
As with technologies before, there are gaps in developing countries where resources are scarce and the incentive to build an infrastructure is not as strong. Even so, wireless capacity has joined public utilities, roads, airports and natural resources as a necessity for vibrant economic growth.
Yes, But What About Security?
Since people are no longer tethered to their homes and offices, there is an incredible volume of information being transmitted over the airwaves. In this wireless world, hackers and criminals are finding fresh ground to deploy malware, viruses, worms and malicious software. And yet there is a startling lack of mobile security.
The mobile security experts of Canalys report that only four percent of smart phones and tablet devices shipped in 2010 had some form of mobile security application installed. They forecast that percentage to exceed 20 percent by 2015. A 44.2-percent growth rate in mobile security spending could make it a $3 billion market opportunity in 2015, the firm forecasts.
An evolving issue in 2012 will be who is responsible for security on mobile devices purchased by employers for employees to use in their work. Is it the user or the owner? Questions like these can no longer be ignored by businesses that carry the risk. They are best addressed in written technology policies that all employees must accept and follow.
Technology marches on. Just as fast as you can say “top 10 technology trends,” something new will come along and shift attention to a new path. There will be shiny new displays, more elegant interfaces and fresh features in the coming year, but mobility will be the concept that underlies the innovations with the greatest impact on your work and your life. iBi
Scott Stevens is a partner with Clifton Gunderson Technology Solutions in Peoria. He can be reached at [email protected] or (309) 495-8783.