Apps Will Play Smaller Role in Mobile of the Future, Study Finds

Devices in the future will gain context to do more tasks for users, rather than requiring stand-alone apps, according to Forrester analysts.

mobile devices

Mobile devices are popular today, and their popularity won't wane in the next 10 years, even as newer technologies appear on the scene. The reason for their longstanding appeal is that consumers will continue to find new uses for them as they find more and more ways that their mobile devices serve their needs.

That's the conclusion of a new study, "The Future of Mobile: From App Silos to Open Ecosystems: Mobile Becomes the Experience Choreographer," from Forrester Research, which details the company's predictions about wireless devices and consumer behavior into the future.

A key finding of the 25-page report, which was released April 4, is that the impact of mobile devices has been so great in the past few years that "no new device will overtake the scale of the more than 6 billion mobile phones on the planet in the next 10 years, if not longer. Mobile itself will become the brain behind the next revolution in mobility as it powers and orchestrates a multi-device, blended user ecosystem."

What that means, Forrester analyst Michael Facemire told eWEEK, is that as time moves on, it will become less of an app-centered market as smartphones take on more tasks for users without the need for apps.

"It will be less of needing an app for things but more of a curated experience for users," said Facemire. "[It will be users] connecting to what is nearby, and integrating with data that allows brands to have information about you" through beacons, digital assistants like Apple's Siri and Microsoft's Cortana, and other technologies.

"It's a better understanding of context and a better delivery of that experience to you" through mobile devices without requiring user input, he said. Instead, the information will be brought to users automatically, when a user walks into a store, travels to an airport or any other kind of activity that can link users to their environment, wherever they are located, he said.

"It's not forcing you to open an app," said Facemire. "Instead, it will be 'Just give me an experience and get out of my way.'"

The latest report and its predictions came about after many Forrester clients asked the analysts to give them insights into what will be happening with the mobile of the future, rather than just what is happening with mobile today, he said. Facemire and fellow Forrester analyst Julie Ask began the report about 15 months ago and eyed the future of mobile about eight years out.

"The absolutely fervor in developing nations for push technology and making our lives easier, better and more technology driven is driving the capitalism fire right now," said Facemire.

The move away from apps will be a natural progression, he said.

"When the iPhone came out, there was no app store initially," he said. "That was a marketing thing later. Instead of apps, the mobile experience will become what I want, when I want it and then the need for apps goes away."

One such scenario could be a user walking into an airport terminal and Google "seeing" that the user is probably taking a flight, said Facemire. Google could then present special deals or ads to the user on a smartphone offering products for the trip, such as wireless headphones for the user's mobile devices.

"You could ask your phone, 'How do I get home?'" without an app being needed, he said. "The future of mobile means contextual information rather than going through apps. The pace of technology is not going to slow down, and this is where it may be going."

And while the Internet of things will also continue to grow in the future, Facemire and Ask's research doesn't see the IoT replacing mobile or disrupting mobile in the future, he said.

"Instead, IoT is an enabler to pushing mobile to a more valuable, contextually driven future," Facemire said. "We hear quite a bit that IoT is next big thing and that mobile will go away. Mobile is definitely not going away."

What could happen is that the appearance of mobile devices could likely change and evolve, he said.

"It's not too much of a stretch to see a future where your mobile device doesn't even have a screen on it," said Facemire. "You could just need to be near a screen, so that your mobile device acts as a mobile transport, as a mechanism to connect to the Web" via something like a holographic heads-up display.

"Too often we limit ourselves to our current technology in what we imagine," said Facemire. "A hologram could be a good way to do that. For Luke Skywalker it worked. What would be an ideal way to communicate with a device? That's the future that we're trying to drive toward."