A Sensor In Your Pocket: The Future Of Mobile Is User Context

Mobile has the potential to be even bigger and more disruptive than the Internet. That’s a bold statement, but it’s at the heart of a new Forrester Research report published today by my colleague Julie Ask entitled, “The Future Of Mobile Is User Context” that I also had the pleasure helping produce. Today, few of the numerous professionals we interviewed are developing digital strategies that leverage context and make the most of the phenomenal technology packed inside mobile devices. Even fewer are anticipating the opportunities that will emerge tomorrow, with technology innovation driving capabilities around the user’s context.

Indeed, the fancy features embedded in mobile phones such as GPS and NFC (near-field communications) will become common, while new sensors like barometers will reveal more about the user’s environment. The phones will also act as modems, relaying or interpreting information from other machines or from attachments with sensors. They will offer new information–ranging from a consumer’s altitude, speed, temperature, and surrounding light levels to his orientation. Coupled with improvements in multi-core processors and HD media technologies, motion, voice, and touch will redefine the user interface.

For consumer product strategy professionals, this experience changes what it is possible to do on mobile devices.

In a few years, mobile will be divorced from the PC. While a mobile device may have the ability to act like a PC, it has the potential to do much, much more. For example, sensors and other advancements will detect heart rates, analyze breath for alcohol content, and assist navigation in high-rise buildings or on mountains. This information will open up new product opportunities. Product strategists must step into the leadership role, driving the development of user-context-based products. Increasingly, voice and motion will control devices and applications. There will be an entirely new generation of products and services delivered on mobile platforms that will not originate online – these new services will have the best opportunity to incorporate new features, as they will be designed with mobile in mind.

At the end of the day, who knows you best? Your mobile phone! Why?

Because it will become the device you use to interact with the world around you–your hotel room, your shopping cart, your TV, your fitness plan, your bank, your parking meter, your refrigerator, your car, your running shoes, and many other aspects of your life. You won’t be able to keep anything secret from your mobile phone.

Of course, this will raise privacy fears. But we believe that, in the long run, consumers will voluntarily give up privacy in exchange for the benefits of mobile convenience: provided that the contextual information collected about consumers delivers highly personalized experiences that they see as too convenient to pass up.

We believe that consumers will “walk through” their own personal Internet experience. What does this mean? Consumers will receive more and more individualized content based on their current context. The Internet will no longer be just a “pull” mechanism, with consumers choosing to access their content in a fixed place; it will become a push-based approach in which information is automatically updated and personalized to match their past behavior and their real-time environment. As the remote control of our daily personal lives, the mobile phone will become both an enabler and recipient of merged physical and digital experiences.

That’s why we believe the future of mobile is the user context.

Building highly contextual experiences is a journey.

Thomas Husson is a Principal Analyst at Forrester Research serving Consumer Product Strategy professionals. He blogs at http://blogs.forrester.com/thomas_husson A preview of the report can be found here.

This article originally appeared in Forrester.