How Will We Be Using Mobile Networks in 2020?

By Mika Skarp

In the past, disruptive changes in the ways we have used mobile devices has had a direct and significant impact on market-share in the mobile space. And while the advances that have marked our progress toward the mobile future are progressively different, the impact on market-share is a constant.

As hard as it is to remember, back when a mobile device was simply a mobile phone used to call people, that in itself was the great advance. What, you mean I don’t have to use (nor smell) a payphone any more? In those days, Ericsson and Motorola dominated the market with their own proprietary OSs. It’s interesting to see that most mobile OS histories and infographics mark the Palm OS as ground zero, but there was a fair amount of development of what they’ve called “embedded systems”, in other words Operating Systems, before that and it’s important for this discussion to take note of them, and their impact on the market.

Not long into the reign of Ericsson and Motorola, our own Nokia brought a whole new world to the mobile phone with its meme-worthy and even dumb monochrome game "Snake" based on the 1976 blockbuster arcade game “Blockade”. But man, was that game Snake ever a game-changer? Yes, the Palm OS was already in its 3rd iteration, but a phone trumps a glorified rolodex/calendar any day. Adding a simple game gave Nokia a near instant boost, seeing its market-share rise to 40%!

And yes, Windows Mobile, Blackberry and early Android made major waves through the early to mid 2000s, but they were just clearing the harbor for the arrival of Apple's iOS-powered iPhone. With a host of productized apps and touch screens this was something new. And here again the real disruption happened around fundamental changes to the device and user experience delivering Apple an instant jump to 14% market-share. It wasn’t long lived, as the open market, lower cost, high price value of AndroidOS and Google’s steady march to gobble up users turned the scales way in the other direction.

Suffice to say that if we do see a pattern here, it’s one of early market share wins over ground breaking technology followed by tsunami-sized market-share consolidations as those innovations get scooped up by volume business-savvy giants.

We’re now at the boarding gates of the next big departure for mobile technology, namely Augmented Reality. And it isn’t just about catching a Snorlax on the way to the water cooler. Like Apple’s touch screen iOS, Augmented Reality promises to free our fingers for a full body-centric experience, opening our eyes and body movements to our mobile devices in an augmented multi-point interface. While you don light, futuristic glasses that will remain fully transparent in idle mode (or even be corrected to your prescription), at a blink, your AR will provide key data about your environment, while VR will take you to onto the Internet. Android and iOS won't be the embedded systems here, but something new and maybe even provided by a uSens or Gestigon or innovators of the like.

With those systems in place, it will all be a question of the requirements. Like when a human moves his or her head will the system tolerate a data delay of more than 20ms? This, by the way, is the fastest reaction time we humans are capable of - even the most lightening of wild-west gun slingers. Needless to say the OSs will need to be really, really, really fast. And not just fast, but in the case of detecting very subtle eye movements from close proximity to the eye, the video stream must be incredible smooth to avert failure. On top of that, the OS will need to support sophisticated movement recognition, which, though kinetic must be extremely accurate, especially in applications like driverless vehicles where the risk is high and safety paramount. And since, by the same principle that you won’t wear your hockey helmet off of the rink, your goggles won’t be directly connected to the Internet, but instead by some kind of modem with a touch pad and a large, hopefully non-explosive battery. I am sure that Samsung is working on this now as we speak, but they better hurry. Just this week Snap goggles hit the market with a launch timed picture perfectly for a nice run up to a Xmas 2016 retail blockbuster. 

But now back to the OS question and the inevitable disruption to come? While it’s quite likely that the companies who are developing AR glasses (like Facebook and Google) will dominate in the beginning, there is strong historical evidence to suggest that new entrants are out there and just about finished developing an experience that will blow our minds, exploding batteries not included. Stay tuned!