Mobile Trends 2020 – a brief review

A curious affliction of the mobile blogosphere is its propensity for annual predictions about what will happen next in our industry.

It’s a badly-kept secret that this frustrates me. Mostly because:

But this week saw the publication of a collection of 40 or so pundits’ predictions mobile trends for the coming decade. Should I dislike this 400 times more? Well, fortunately no! Ten years gives more room for the predictions to breathe, and the collective nature of the project should mean broader trends can be spotted.

The document is curated by Rudy De Waele, for whom I have lot of respect. He’s got the enthusiasm and boundless energy that fits well with the promise of mobile. It must have taken a fair bit of effort to pull this project together: a set of slides containing the predictions from a large number of contributors. The document has already been very successful and well circulated. And there are some very clever people involved.

In choosing the contributors, Rudy describes them as his personal ‘mobile heroes’. Fair enough – but how has that affected the overall roundedness of the project? This, to me, is potentially a worry.

For example, it might have been interesting to have heard from at least one handset manufacturer. This will be a decade of bitter rivalry in that market between the old telecoms guard and already-successful new entrants. Exciting times: and I would love to know what the contenders foresee? And only 3 network operators? However conservative their ambitions, the networks’ plans and predictions are quite likely to shape mobile’s decade somehow.

Facebook is a good scalp – although not as revealing as I’d hoped – and so are the financier contributions. Most of the remainder of the contributions are from small startups, bloggers, authors, entrepreneurs, ‘strategic thinkers’ and ‘keynote speakers’.

Now, I have nothing against such individuals (since I know many of them, they’re very smart, and that’s how I’d probably describe myself too!). But having so many casts a slight pallor over the project: the patina of the developed world’s well-trodden mobile conference circuit. Punditry that’s been trotted out for years: affluent, Western, urban- and professional-centric reflections of how we’d like the industry to fulfill our own personal use-cases.

This is a shame. I wanted this document to surprise me more. The entire world – economically, politically, climatically – will change a lot in ten years. I would expect the mobile medium will flex to adapt to those seminal changes far more interestingly than it does to some tactical contemporary challenges.

In the same vein, a missed opportunity may have been to look further abroad. True, there are valid mentions of mobile’s cultural impact in Africa, but try keyword-searching the document for ‘China’, ‘India’, ‘Brazil’, ‘Russia’ (or even ‘Japan’!) and you’ll be out of luck. Who thinks nothing of interest will happen in those places in the next decade? (Now that would be a surprise).

This all made the predictions, a little, erm, predictable. Yes, yes, I think we all know battery technology will improve, but who was brave enough to make predictions like this?:

Crazy? Sure. But these are just off the bat. I think the aims of such a project should be to inspire, question and provoke. Don’t give me some short-term platitudes about app stores and widgets. At least not when history is on the move like it will be in this decade.

OK, so perhaps I’m protesting too much. Despite these flaws, there are some real gems to be found in this document. “Digital syllogomania” is a brilliant piece of insight. A few touch on the very likely “always-on backlash”, and the promise of mobile-device-as-sensor is tantalizing. I also applaud those predictions that wonder whether mobile technology can change basic human behavior. I’m doubtful, but it’s a good question. As Tom Hume asks: “What happens to conversation when it’s all recorded, or any fact is a 5-second voice-search away from being checked?”

Anyway, it’s a few days old now, but do go read the document here. And more importantly, make up some of your own. Even more importantly, go and try make them happen. “It’s good to talk”, but the mobile world in the next decade probably belongs to those who make. And those who make the predictions come true.