Thursday 22 July 2010

How long until there is "A Smartphone for Everyone?"

The Product Lifecycle (PLC) is one of the pieces of business theory that is most clearly visible in the world around us. A new product is take up by a small group* of “lead users” initially before being gradually adopted by the rest of the population once (or if) the benefits of the given product are well demonstrated.

Smartphones appear to have now gone well beyond the lead users, and the take up by amongst the majority of the population is well underway. Since Spring this year, T-mobile has focussed its marketing on offering “A smartphone for everyone” with Blackberries and other top-name brands on contracts for £20 per month. And Tesco mobile has begun offering iPhones at prices that undercut the mainstream networks.

Although society is just beginning to see the effects, the widespread availability of data communications literally “at our fingertips” is bound to cause some dramatic changes throughout whole segments of business. The impact may eventually prove even more dramatic than the growth of the (wired) internet. Present-day applications like paid-parking-by-telephone, mobile-phone boarding passes and setting your video recorder from your phone are already making our lives easier, but there is infinitely more scope out there.

If phones were integrated with shopping then personalised recommendations and vouchers could be sent to you as you walk around the store; you could photograph barcodes of things as they go into your basket and bypass the need for a checkout (barcode photography already allows you to price-check against online sites!) In clothes stores, precise data about your body dimensions could be downloaded from your phone to a store’s computers to direct you straight to the best fitting clothes. With advances in 3-D printing, bespoke items could one day be rapidly-manufactured while you wait. At a bar, you could order on your phone and get drinks and food brought directly to your table, paid for automatically from your bank account. And I have already written elsewhere about the integration of smartphones within everyday conversation.

At the moment smartphone apps are designed to be used in parallel with existing pre-smartphone business models. The fundamental shift that we haven’t seen yet is the re-design of business models on the premise that the vast majority of customers have smartphones. The potential benefits are so great that I doubt this shift is far off.

*Small in this sense is proportional, it is a few percent of the population so still numbers in several million people

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