How Henry Ford taught us everything we don’t know about mobile (yet)

Earlier today I participated on a panel about the future of mobile beyond the smartphone at the Scotia Capital Apps Conference. It got the blog juices flowing.

Here’s the brutal truth. Talking about mobile beyond the device is something that most humans are not ready for. We think we are, but in reality most of us aren’t able to let go of the past in order to see the possibilities that a pure mobile future truly means.

The closest parallel that I can formulate while sitting in this Starbucks on Front St. in Toronto is the invention of the car. The gas-powered engine that heralded the era of modern transportation was an inspiring invention all by itself, but what happened after – and continues to happen – is a lasting legacy that would not exist without first putting some rubber to the road.

With mass production of the automobile came, well, modernity. Streets were paved, highways were invented, oil became an essential global and political resource. Motels and hotels spread, fast food outlets appeared and altered the eating habits and waistlines of every single North American. Suburbs emerged and commuting became more prominent, spreading the distribution of income from a concentrated core. All of this and (many other things I’m sure I’m forgetting) from a single, monumental invention: the car.

Mobile is the next car. Mobile is the vehicle but the destination is where the change happens. Mobile is at the point that it is so ubiquitous that it has become free. By free, I mean the freedom to think about applications of mobile outside of our current context and thinking.

The implications of ubiquitous, smartphone-less connectivity is something I can’t even understand. I’m sure Henry Ford himself had no conception of what the car would come to signify 100 years later and the impact it would have on the planet; the same thing goes for mobile. Off the top of my head I can think of a few short term “holy shit” implications.

Carriers and mobile devices

For years we’ve had to endure the wrath of the carrier’s 2 or 3 year contracts in order to get access to cheap devices. Since the J2ME wall came crumbling down this has been the carrier crutch – the way they get and keep you. What happens when device subsidies is not the focus or the hook? Carriers will need to find the next next way to keep customers. Rogers up here in Canada has applied to be a bank – is that the future for carriers? They own the customer relations and our data, plus the data we consume…

And what about automobile manufacturers? Does our reliance on a smartphone start to diminish when Ford offers in-car mobile access to everything? Could they create their own network and bypass the carriers?

Mobile wallets

The mobile wallet hasn’t even been implemented yet and I’m talking about it being disrupted. The future of ubiquitous connectivity means disruptive thinking, and applying the wallet concept to a mobile device is not disruptive is it? What about the day your car is tied to your credit card (or preferred cash provider) and all you need is to be in proximity and a PIN to activate the pump? Perhaps the pump will know the gas you need, recommend the oil be changed, remind you to add windshield washer fluid, give you a discount on Cheetos and ensure the car asking for the gas hasn’t been stolen (if it was stolen, it wouldn’t dispense gas).

You get the point. Suspending our current knowledge and know-how allows for a complete redo of our current systems. I know, this stuff blows minds, but that’s exactly what this once-in-a-generation (or two) event is, mind blowing.

BTW, the implications of this post will not be known for at least 10 years.

About the author

Rob Woodbridge

I'm Rob, the founder of and I've spent 14 years immersed in the mobile and pervasive computing world. During this great time I've helped some of the most innovative companies grow their business through mobile. If you are in need of a mobile business advisor or coach, connect with me here to get things rolling.

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