From touch screen to touch world — welcome to mobile 2.0
Companies that make it possible for consumers to touch the real world will win as mobile becomes the platform.
The world is going mobile (we know, we know) and everyone should be building for this world. But so far, most mobile applications are just software optimized for the form factor of mobile, not end to end experiences that leverage the context available with mobile. The UX/UI is optimized for small touch screens but not for the bundle of internet connected sensors that sit behind the glass — and connect the phone to the real world.
There is lots of beautiful software that pulls you into the small screen but the real opportunity is to deliver a service that uses real world context (like location with Uber or HotelTonight) a network of physical sensors (like temperature, moisture or motion with SmartThings) or activity (like modifying the home screen and settings while you drive like the latest First Round Community member, Cover.)
In the next 3 years we will see services training consumers to share more context with mobile services and have it feel magical not creepy… I think the winners will capture the mobile opportunity by building services that leverage the data available from the phone to understand context for the consumer and then act on it implicitly — creating a sense of touching the real world through your phone.
Historical example: GPS
Phones have had GPS since the early 2000’s but the idea of a 3rd party knowing where you are was creepy at first. Then maps became a killer app and most people stopped worrying about sharing their location when it was explicit and in their control.
It became clear to consumers that leveraging the context of location unlocked a whole new layer of value. Maps on a smartphone and specifically the maps on the iPhone since June, 2007, trained us all to be a little blue dot on a screen and showed us the power of sharing our location (and where we were going) with navigation services.
Consumers need to be conditioned to adopt new behavior and to see the value of sharing data implicitly rather than explicitly (or at all).Products like Latitude and Color tried to use the location data as context and unlock new opportunity but got the paradigm wrong — using location for persistent tracking or as the basis for photo sharing was not natural for the consumer.
Uber shows the power of getting the timing of the consumer behavior change and the use case exactly right — and they have built a massive business on top of location data and the customer’s comfort with sharing their location via GPS for a specific, well defined purpose. Put another way, when everyone is willing to be a blue dot on a map, services that depend on location as context will work. When you need a car service, the first question is “where are you?” and the second is “where are you going?” Consumers got comfortable being a blue dot on a map and Uber unlocked a huge opportunity to use location as context for technology by finding an extremely natural use case.
Maybe being the first to use a new sensor or to create a new context paradigm is a mistake. Changing consumer behavior so that a company like Uber can succeed is very hard. Building BLE connections from phone to phone, leveraging unique device ID’s tied to social or spending data, using motion signatures from an M7 chip and layering in GPS, WiFi etc. creates a whole new sandbox. But, I don’t think it is about being first to leverage a new sensor — It is about being first to get the consumer paradigm right.
If you are building for mobile, you need a point of view on when and how consumers will get comfortable with the “magic” that you and your co-founders can create with a new technology.
What are the popular services and natural offline behaviors that help make your product feel natural?
Are there examples of products that tried to use the same data, but got the paradigm wrong?
What did they miss that you understand?
What are you doing with your product to move the utility/benefit towards the front of the experience and to minimize the discomfort gap (the time between a consumer taking that first, small, uncomfortable step — like letting an app take over your lock screen, and the benefit to the customer — like having easy access to music apps if your headphones are plugged in)?
There will be many more companies that achieve Uber scale by getting the consumer paradigm exactly right on mobile. The combination of mobile sensor data and the end to end experience will be right. The level of consumer utility will be right. And, most importantly, the whole thing will feel natural and the technology will seem to disappear because the timing will be right.