The opening session I attended this morning at the Gartner symposium was entitled “by 2017 your smartphone will be smarter than you”. The speakers were Martin Reynolds and Carolina Milanesi from Gartner and the moderator was Charles Arthur from the Guardian. As a matter-of-fact, the discussion ended up being far more interesting than the title suggested. The panel started to review the future of Smartphones and wearable devices and connected it very well to the issues of data privacy and user benefit, which are central to the use of big data.
Carolina Milanesi introduced the subject by saying that “smartness is achieved through sensors and also geolocation. Yet, “we are not there yet” according to her, and mostly if “people don’t want to share their location information, smartness may not even happen”. I think she exposed the issue very well by emphasising the fact that innovation related to Smartphones will not just be a matter of technology, but of user acceptance and benefits.
Gartner’s Martin Reynolds and Carolina Milanesi today in Barcelona
There are, according to those 2 Gartner analysts, 4 phases of what they call “cognizant computing”. “We have caught glimpses of each of these phases at the moment depending on the vendors and the services, but we are nowhere near complete smartness” Milanesi added. She and Reynolds went on describing these four phases:
Gartner’s four phases of “cognizant computing”
- “sync me”: this is the most obvious phase, the one which most of the Computing giants have achieved; it is composed of storage and the syncing of personal data,
- the “see me” phase: this is all about our digital footprint. “This phase is still not very intelligent, and not many companies are taking advantage of this” the Gartner analysts said,
- the “know me” phase: this is about understanding who the user is, what he likes and what he does through the data he stored; so that he can be presented with offers and messages which are relevant to him,
- “be me” phase: this is where services are acting on the user’s behalf based on learned or explicit data.
Yet, looking at how many companies do this show that there is still room for improvement:
- the “sync me” and “see me” phases are pretty common and are mastered by most high-tech giants like Evernote, Google, Apple, Amazon etc and Facebook of course,
- the “know me” and “be me” phases are more restricted at the moment to mostly Google and also Apple. “Google now” is a good example of that, mostly on Smartphones: it is able to suggest ideas, for instance a restaurant which is relevant to your tastes, when you might actually need one and one is available in the vicinity. Apple’s Siri is a bit different. “It looks smart but is not” said Gartner’s Milanesi. When Carolina’s daughter spoke to Siri and said: “Siri, I don’t like you” he responded “now, now”; that’s because it was cleverly programmed but it doesn’t mean that it’s smart at all, Milanesi said.
So all in all, we are several years away from smartness, Martin Reynolds explained. “Smartness will happen when your phone is able to ring 30 minutes earlier because there is to be heavy traffic and you have a meeting with your boss” he added. Yet, “if the meeting is not with your boss but just with a colleague, then the system should be able to send an email to say that you are going to be late”. That’s an example of how smart and predictive a service can be. I must admit that some of the stuff that I see from Google on my Galaxy S4 smartphone (the service is called Google cards) at the moment is already very close to this as Google is able to propose quite a few things (sights, public transport, stocks, birthdays, all based on social data…) already without me asking for anything (see screen grab).
Only a limited number of companies have that ability
Only a limited number of companies have the capacity that Google has gathered over the years in order to store and compute all this data. Others are following now said the Gartner analysts. Microsoft is on Google’s heels with an amazing catch up in terms of how many servers they are investing in at the moment, Reynolds said. Apple, and even Amazon too, but to smaller degree, they said.
But the real question is “how does this innovation affect regular businesses”?
“Some of these ideas will be disrupting traditional businesses” Martin Reynolds said. Through a combination of mass storage and Twitter feeds (Martin thinks that companies which don’t have a proper kept Twitter feed will soon be at a disadvantage) you will be able to reach a proper strategy which will project your company in the future.
What will change by 2017?
Carolina demonstrated a Plantronics prototype headset which is “a lot smarter than existing headsets” insofar as it knows what its user is looking at. Applications for that innovation could be found in video conferencing, but also in the user shopping experience, live navigation in Google Street view (as demonstrated live to us this morning), and even insurance applications for bikers and hikers, for instance, who would be able to record road accidents even before they happen.
Gartner’s Martin Reynolds and Carolina Milanesi
Powerful motion sensors
“There are also new motion sensors which make it possible for online services to know exactly what it where you are going and at what speed” Martin Reynolds added. “You will be able to record all your movements” he said. “Companies like Google and Apple, and even possibly carriers, will be able to map out where people go; even your house will be tracked” said Martin, and you will be able to see where you, but also your guests, are actually sitting and moving about in your house.
Avoid crossing the “creepy line” (Eric Schmidt)
Where is the boundary between storing a lot of personal information for statistical purposes in order to bring value to the user and prying into personal data in order to be able to track what people do? That is the real question. A lot of that issue boils down to who actually does the tracking in fact, and how much trust the user is putting in them. Governments definitely seem to be out of that game (at least if I believe the responses from the audience to Gartner’s questions), but also possibly carriers (for the same reasons). Strangely enough, companies like Google, and to a lesser extent Facebook, were perceived as less intrusive by the audience because “they bring more value to the user” according to Gartner. So the “creepy line” is less about the usage of personal data as it is about the value that the service brings in the users’ eyes.
As a Conclusion, what will be the future made of?
“The unlocking of all the data that is being stored at the moment will always take place” according to Reynolds, but the real question is “whether this is being done with the objective of bringing value to the user or third-party”.
According to the Gartner analysts in the panel today, value will also move away from the handsets and therefore we will witness a shift in prices and a lot of pressure on the manufacturers in the next three years. Even then, it’s difficult for us to see that happening in the very near future, given the recent demise of Blackberry and Nokia which left a very significant market share to Samsung and concentrated the market in a few hands. Also, “Consumers are starting to get more interested in the ecosystem and applications than the hardware itself”, Reynolds added. A sign of this being Apple’s decision to give away its software for free (as they did with “Pages” and other apps on iOS recently).
So what will be the future made of in 2017? And how smart will our Smartphones be? Certainly, more wearable devices will be available out there. And Smartphones will probably not get much smarter than they are at the moment as intelligence is bound to shift into the software and the ability to do predictive things using the data that users have provides… that is to say as long as they agree with that!