It’s Time to Demand More of Your Smartphone – and I Don’t Just Mean More Pixels

The following is a guest contributed post by Greg Wester, SVP, Marketing & Business Development, Mobile Posse

As the dust settles on this year’s Mobile World Congress, and we process the latest slew of smartphone launches – none of which promise anything too exciting – I have to think about the evolution of the mobile device and how it’s stagnated. Smartphones changed everything over the last decade; they replaced our watches, cameras, wallets, and more. In the early days of mobile, every new feature was a game-changer.

In the last few years however, little has changed – and now we need it to. When new phones come out today, we get a slightly larger screen, a few more pixels in our cameras, and maybe a button has moved or disappeared. There hasn’t been any true innovation, even as devices like the Amazon Echo and Google Home enter the market, and TVs, radios, and doorbells get smarter. It’s time to demand more from our smartphones. At this point, they should be better able to anticipate our needs and desires.

But where can OEMs look for inspiration to truly improve the way they serve users? There are a few surprising sources to which we can look:

  • Frictionless Assistant Devices, like the Echo or Google Home: In recent years, Alexa reinvented the hockey puck to respond to any idea that comes into our minds and out of our mouths. The Echo, as well as the Google Home and other devices, can give us a weather update, stream our favorite music or news source, and even turn on our lights and adjust our thermostats – all with a frictionless request.

We pick up our phone literally hundreds of times a day; it knows how and why we use it, beyond making calls. So why can’t it frictionlessly anticipate our needs? It knows when we’re at the train station, yet it doesn’t surface updated schedules or engaging content for the commute. It knows I’m a sports fan, but when there’s something of interest, the best it offers is an interruptive notification. Considering how well our phones ought to know our habits and preferences, these devices should be more useful and frictionless than our home assistants. It’s not about “Voice” per se, it’s about taking out the friction.

  • Out-of-Home’s Dynamic Content: Yes, I’m talking about billboards. The best, most effective billboards are, of course, the ones that appear at places where traffic is typically congested – like the entrance to the Holland Tunnel, for example. That’s when people have time to actually look and take in the billboard’s content. New digital billboards are capitalizing on this opportunity, using the flow of traffic as a predictor of attention span, showing video or multiple animated messages when traffic is slow, or simple static images when traffic is flowing.

Our phones know our content “traffic” as well as locations and behaviors, and AI can be used on this info to predict when we’re unlocking our phones just looking to kill time. If a billboard can figure out the best content for us in those moments, why can’t our own trusty handsets? My phone knows enough to shut off notifications when I’m driving; it should also know when I might be best engaged with some short form, snackable content of interest.

  • Speaking of Artificial Intelligence (AI): Fast-moving AI should be at the heart of our phone’s interface, rather than just a feature. Sure, Siri knows which apps I’ve used the most, and Google Assistant knows what I’ve been searching for lately, but these are separate apps that I have to call up if I want to benefit from the knowledge they have about me and my behaviors. Why isn’t AI a key feature within my phone’s operating system?

Better applied, AI could make my device so much more useful. My phone already knows that when I wake up, I check the weather and my Reuters app first thing. Rather than opening those apps, it would be helpful if, as soon as my alarm went off (on my phone) those apps were already open and waiting for me. Similarly, if Headspace or Calm surfaced at bedtime – say, ten minutes before my phone shifts into “Do Not Disturb Mode,” that would also be great. It would not take much to add these novel capabilities to smartphones.

There’s so much our phones could be doing for us, but instead they’re letting other devices and other apps cut to the front of the line. By thinking outside the box – or, in this case, outside the glass rectangle – OEMs could offer us much more than better cameras, wireless earbuds and longer battery life. They could actually make our smartphones smarter.

Our mobile devices are already the digital hubs of our lives; OEMs should be considering the many ways these devices could actually improve our daily lives.