LAS VEGAS--I was lucky enough to moderate a smartphone panel at CES this year. Experts from four companies, including Mozilla and BlackBerry-maker RIM, got together to discuss the future of smartphone apps, fragmentation, HTML 5, payment, and more.
Since not all of you could be there, I thought I'd share the pundits' perspectives on what we can expect from smartphone apps and services in the next two to five years. Keep in mind, of course, that these are educated guesses, not gospel.
QUESTION: Will native apps largely fade from view?
ANSWER: Largely for many tasks, but not entirely. HTML 5 gives developers the ability to build very rich Web apps and take them across mobile platforms. With the exception of deeply integrated apps, like multimedia and gaming, mobile Web apps will largely replace apps for everyday tasks, such as e-mail and music streaming. At the end of the day, consumers will go with whichever app offers the better experience, regardless of its cloud or device-specific location. Web apps will be especially important for smartphone owners who frequently switch to the latest, greatest new phone after six to nine months.
QUESTION: How easy will it be to take content from one platform to another?
ANSWER: Web apps make transferring content quite easy because your info is already stored online under your account. As for the stuff stored on your device, this is a logistical problem of scale, not a technical one. Technology already exists to transfer content that users "own" among separate operating systems, but it's not yet implemented at scale. In the future, content will be a user right.
QUESTION: How will mobile operators deal with mobile OS fragmentation going forward?
ANSWER:: Carriers don't want fragmentation, because they want loyal, happy customers. But the carrier wish of unifying different versions of a mobile operating system is at odds with business decisions about which phones to upgrade, and when. Pushing out upgrades takes resources, which leaves carriers gambling on which phones will sell like hotcakes.
QUESTION: What trends will we see in smartphone hardware and software in the next two to five years?
ANSWER: We're going to see quad-core processors and 3D. Gaming will really take off with much better processing speeds and hardware acceleration. Battery technology will also have to improve to handle the much richer multimedia. In terms of hardware, NFC (near-field communication) chips will proliferate as one way that smartphones will largely replace physical wallets.
QUESTION: Is there new technology on the horizon to change the way app developers and carriers monetize?
ANSWER: We're going to be seeing many more Wi-Fi only devices, which could reduce the carrier's cost load for maintaining its data network. (And carriers will pass the savings to consumers.) Carrier billing and NFC will turn the smartphone into a mobile wallet, which leads the way for carriers, and not banks or credit card companies, to handle billing. This is especially true of developing nations, where many more people own smartphones than have credit cards or bank accounts.
App makers will draw on more location-based transactions--think Groupon--and microtransactions such as we already see when players pay to unlock extra weapons in games. Advertising will also become much more interactive. You might play a game, for instance, in which "winning" gets you a coupon or a redemption code for the advertised product. You'll think you're getting a deal, but you're actually buying right into the ad.