This is a sequel to an article I wrote recently on my view of the future of the Contacts application on mobile phones. Due to an unforseen complication with my page no-one was notified to that post so a lot of people missed it. It’s recommended that people read that before reading this. Today I’d like to address the future of mobiles in general and application evolution specifically.
The Current Landscape
We’re currently living in an application-centric environment. If you can think of something that you want to do on your phone you can bet there’ll probably be an application that can do it, although it may not be available on your device. Applications are the big thing at the moment and all of the big manufacturers either have or are rushing to release an on device application store in order to allow users an easier way to upgrade their devices (as well as gain a slice of the profit from those application sales). With the current landscape of mobile technology being so application-centric it’s easy to forsee the future as following the same path. After all, we all want the best applications now, why wouldn’t we in future?
To answer that question we’d have to have to go back to what applications actually are – ways to upgrade the functionality of the device. Surely this means that a device that doesn’t need upgrading wouldn’t need applications and that the device with the most applications is merely covering up all of the holes in it’s functionality? Of course it does. So, as operating systems become more robust, processors become more powerful, RAM becomes more plentiful and networks become more reliable, the devices we carry in our pocket will move ever closer to the power of desktop systems and the need for extra applications will fall. More and more we’ll find that when we need to do something the device we have will be able to fulfill that need without any extra help.
The Role Of The Browser And Widgets
Think about how people used computers only a decade ago. If you wanted to do something you’d have to buy the software to do it with and install it on the PC. That’s the current stage that the smartphone is in. However that isn’t true for PCs anymore. Now, if you have a need you’ll probably be able to find a website that can fill that need. Over the past few years I’ve been finding that I’ve been using websites more often than applications to cater to my needs and I believe this to be the future of the smartphone. As mobile browsers evolve and are able to cope with more current web technologies, we will find that rather than reaching for an application to do something we will simply load a bookmark and use the webpage exactly as users of a desktop browser would do.
Of course, better processors and faster networks are needed for this to work as I’ve predicted, but the mobile device is fast approaching the desktop device in terms of specifications and the next generation of mobile networks is designed to constantly improve over a long period of time while offering speeds equivalent to those offered by the best wireless networks. By the time this future is a reality most people will have slowly come away from the limited applications available on their phones and start using web based technologies and services in their everyday life.
Of the web sites I use I have only once loaded Twitter in my web browser and yet it’s the first thing I’ve actually paid money on an application (Gravity) in order to use. Why would I load up the entire webpage when an application can only download the data I need to see and present it in a pleasant and organised manner? I’ve already said that browser based services are the future but that doesn’t mean that the browser will remain the same all this time. Already we’re seeing mobile browsers capable of using widgets to only send or retrieve the data we need from a website. As widgets mostly use current web technologies to be programmed it’s a small step for someone to throw together a widget that does what they want with the site of their choice. By thinking of widgets as shells worn by the browser that determine what data is collected and sent we can see how the quick send and recieve nature of some sites can be kept intact without having to visit the actual site.
Plugins Not Repeats
While it’s true that widgets and browser services can bring a desktop style experience to mobile devices in the future, there are still some things that we will want to be able to do while offline. Even with the most robust set of core applications there will undoubtedly be times when what we need to do isn’t covered. Currently the only way to deal with this is to download a new application. Take photo editing for example. When I edit a photo using my Nokia 6120 classic I now have three extra applications on top of the core photo editor that I use for different effects. My Samsung i8910 HD has an extended version of the basic photo editing suite and isn’t compatible with the other applications yet I still have yet another extra application on there for more detailed image editing. With so many applications for one task it’s easy to get a little confused about what you’re doing.
My view of the future has the core applications being easily expandable using plugins. Rather than downloading a whole new application, users will be downloading extra features for their existing applications. Want to add a frame to that photo? Either design one yourself or download a plugin with a load of frame effects. Want to write on the image? Why don’t you download a few new fonts that slot neatly in to the photo editor (and other parts of the User Interface) to make it that little bit special. Found that you’ve been typing the same old thing over and over in your text editor? Download the templates plugin and set one up so you just have to click it to have it entered into your document. Been getting messages in a language you don’t understand? Download a translation plugin and click translate on the message to have it changed to your native language. Written a blog post in your text editor? Why not download the blogging plugin and upload it to your page right away? The possibilities are endless, but they do require the core system to be very strong and accessible.
And so concludes another small insight into my view of the future of mobile technology. Now you know that I forsee applications increasing in functionality yet integrating seamlessly as they add that functionality to the core suite of applications, and that browser services will play an ever increasing role in the way we do things on our mobile devices. The next article in this series will focus on mobile messaging and the death of SMS.