Blogger’s note: This post has been co-authored with Bryan Cremeens, one of the many bright young researchers at Gongos. Bryan brought this subject to my attention some time ago and our resulting conversations have been both fascinating and wide-ranging. What you’ll read below is a nice synthesis of these conversations, focusing on what we see as some of the key implications of the coming generation of smartphone technologies. Many thanks to Bryan for his passion and contributions to the final product!!
We’ve been posting for a while now about the vital importance of smartphones, both from a cultural and marketing research perspective. We’ll begin with an update on the sonic boom of its adoption. Beyond that, we’ll explore the emerging technologies that will make future smartphones way more than smart – they’ll make them genius.
Within five years, the world’s population will have surpassed 7 billion people. In that time, between four and 5 billion of those folks will own a smartphone. And that’s double the number owning computers. Sound crazy? Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t think so. In fact, he declared mobile to be one of Facebook’s primary strategic imperatives in the coming years. Zuckerberg is a smart guy, and he knows that the smartphone is inherently a social technology; one that is deeply woven into the fabric of peoples’ lives. Engagement is the lifeblood of social networking, and without providing increasingly engaging mobile experiences--and a way to monetize them— Facebook could be dead in the water.
This “mobile dilemma” shouldn’t just be keeping Zuck up at night. We researchers should be pondering it in those wee hours of the morning, too. Not only do we need to keep upping the “mobile experience ante,” we need to recalibrate our discipline for this brave new world.
Beyond the lightning-fast adoption cycle lies the power of advancing technology. Smartphones are accumulating more gray matter every day. It wasn't that long ago that reviewers were raving about flip-phones with color displays and integrated cameras. (A fascinating look at the progression of cell phone design over time can be found here).
We’re on the precipice of a number of major advancements that are going to dramatically raise the smartphone’s IQ. Here are just a few:
4G LTE - We’re rapidly entering a world where hanging out with your friends via high-def video calls will be as natural as sending a text . The roll-out of 4G LTE is the game-changer here, delivering bandwidth to your phone that is as fast (or sometimes faster) than current T1 lines that serve businesses like yours and mine.
Near Field Communication (NFC) – Our instant gratification culture is about to get a shot of adrenaline. A wave of your smartphone near a display will replace waiting in line at the box office; and another wave will grant you entrance into the theatre. With this radio-communication technology, Google’s currently leading the way, shipping about a million NFC-enabled smartphones per week. They won’t be alone for long, since projections suggest annual sales of up to 700 million by 2016.
Biometric Scanning - Gone will be the days of entering that annoying pass code to unlock your phone. All you’ll soon need is your thumbprint. And this technology will also ensure your unique print is attached to any transactions used via your NFC chip. Apple recently acquired a mobile security company called AuthenTec. Their biometric scanning technology is so advanced, that it can detect the difference between an actual human print and a replica.
And…there are a whole lot more. Soon, our smartphones will have more powerful processors than what we currently have in our PCs, enabling apps to do things we can only dream up today. They’ll have advanced wireless capabilities that will allow them to effortlessly “talk” to a rapidly expanding ecosystem of “connected” devices. Oh, and they’ll charge themselves without being plugged in too.
A brave new world, indeed.
What does this mean for research?
The implications of the global adoption of these new technologies are staggering. Here are a few:
- The rollout of 4G LTE will revolutionize ethnography. The sense of “being there” will replace the need to physically be there. Learning from consumers wherever they are in such a highly personal and unobtrusive way will be an incredible opportunity for us as researchers. It will allow us to be the proverbial fly on the wall in a uniquely 21st century way.
- NFC technology will transform the way researchers understand how consumers shop. NFC scanning is far less cumbersome than current UPC barcode scanning, making it more seamless of an experience for consumers in the context of their shopping experience.
- Biometric technology has promise to capture a whole lot more than thumbprints. Smartphones will become a gateway to capturing and measuring physical and neurological responses, giving researchers a truer read on unconscious behavior.
Fascinating and exhilarating at the same time! These examples are ways we think the genius phone in our future will disrupt market research.
So now we ask, what direction do you think the smartphone tsunami is going to take us?