If Henry Ford had asked his customers what they wanted, they would probably have said ‘A faster horse’. That is what happens when megatrends kick in; what seems sensible one day seems plain silly the next. And that is what is happening right now with regard to the growth in mobile communications and computing. Massive change is occurring and the superstars of a mere few years ago are looking tired and dated. In fact ‘hero to zero’ has never been so easy. Just ask Nokia, or indeed Blackberry…. but of them more later.
Everyone can see that the market for mobile communications is growing. What is less easily grasped is the sheer scale of this growth, and the transformational effect is it having on how we ‘work, rest and play’. Take the graph below: it shows the amount of data traveling over mobile networks per month. Last year saw 77% growth, which is impressive. But nothing compared to the predicted 13 fold growth from 2012-2017.
This isn’t incremental growth it is exponential. And will be transformational. How could it not be? Think of anything that increases by 13 times in five years. Things aren’t the same are they? Or even ‘more of the same’. No, they are different.
Even in the last few years, when we are only in the foothills of this growth step changes have occurred. For example:
1. In the US the average length of a call has halved since 2005, to around 90 seconds.
2. Watching video via mobile has grown 262% in the last year (more than 50% of total traffic)
3. Amazon has seen mobile use grow 87% in the last year.
4. johnlewis.com sales soared 41 per cent to £959 million in 2012 and accounted for a quarter of trade.
5. LinkedIn has 225,000,000 registered users.
6. Retail vacancy rate nearly 15%
7. UK online sales rise to 12% of total market.
8. UK Internet economy contributes 8.3% of GDP; larger than construction!
Or consider bandwidth and wifi availability:
1. High speed wifi is now available on the London Underground
2. Groups like B4RN are installing Gigabyte (yes Gigabyte) connectivity to rural areas
3. EE and others now rolling out 4G nationwide. Average speed set to double (to 20mb +) this summer
In sum we are moving fast (though with a more ‘wired’ government we could move much faster) towards ubiquitous high speed connectivity, on the back of what seems to be unlimited demand.
Now, what are people going to do with all this connectivity? Well, we can see that they’re not going to be making more phone calls. No, what they are going to do will be shaped by a whole industry taking advantage of this growth in connectivity, combined with ever more powerful mobile devices and the rise of Cloud computing*. So you can expect a plethora of services based on:
1. Cloud based data storage (All docs & images:Large or small, always available)
2. Cloud based applications (SAAS, CRM, Project Mgt, Sales Pipeline, Helpdesk, Building Mgmt)
3. Location aware services (Offers, What’s On, Map based real estate databases)
4. Context aware services (What you need at particular times)
5. Social applications – Business and Personal (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn)
Taking just one example, Google Now (http://www.google.co.uk/landing/now/), we can see where this megatrend is going. This service is now available on Android (owned of course by Google) and Apple’s iOS and offers ‘The right information at just the right time’. So if you are taking a flight it will pull through realtime departure information, as well as having your digital boarding card ready. Or if you have an appointment it will check the traffic and notify you when you should leave based on this. It can provide realtime language translation, give you currency conversion rates and help you book a restaurant or hotel.
In short Google Now is starting to deliver on Sergey Brin’s aim to give you the information you need just before you need it. In other words predictive search.
Why does this all matter? Why should anyone in Commercial Property care? For two fundamental reasons:
1. This megatrend should enable you to do your job better. You should be able to access, and act upon, pretty much any information you need whenever and wherever you are. Almost without caveat you should be demanding, because it can be delivered, all this information and the supporting applications be made available to you via your mobile devices. With this technological empowerment it is hard to think how you could fail to be more productive.
2. With smartphone penetration already at 63% in the UK and with over 6 million people already owning a smartphone AND a tablet, your clients are adopting, embracing and/or being affected by this megatrend. Mobility is becoming the business prerogative. And with this their use of, and requirements for, real estate will change. No longer tied to a desktop PC, office use will change. Pessimistically it could be that employees simply use the technology to reduce their space requirements but hopefully they take instead advantage of the scope to rethink what makes for a productive, engaging workspace. Either way, that 13 fold increase in connectivity between 2012 and 2017 is not going to leave things as they are.
Which brings us back to Henry Ford and RIM. All of the innovations above have come out of developers building upon the ecosystems around Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android platforms, both of which stretch to hundreds of thousands of available applications. As IDC’s Kevin Restivo says ‘The balance of smartphone power has shifted. Phone users want computers in their pockets. The days when phones were used primarily to make calls and send text messages are quickly fading away.’ The direction of travel is clear, and has been since the iPhone totally redefined the mobile phone in 2007.
The problem for Blackberry is that even with the latest Q10, their mindset is stuck in 2000 and their first love is their keyboard. What they have just launched is simply the best horse cart in the age of the automobile.
Bin the Blackberry. Buy a proper smartphone and embrace the mobile megatrend.
* The Cabinet Office has confirmed that the cloud will be mandated as the first choice for all new IT purchases in government, as part of moves to push more departments into using commodity cloud services.