Many of us still refer to the pocket-sized devices we use as cell phones or smartphones. The name suggests that the fundamental purpose of the device is to make calls. However, it would seem that making calls is a secondary functionality behind the digital connectivity of these ubiquitous handheld devices.
Recognize the Changes in Phone Usage
The largest cellular phone companies have recognized the change in usage patterns. Many top companies like Verizon and AT&T have transitioned away from talk-centric plans and towards data-centric plans. Phone users have access to unlimited cellular talk and text functionality, but they pay a premium for the amount of data they use on a monthly basis.
This transition to data-driven subscriptions underscores the shift in how people across the world use their cell phones to communicate. As of late 2015, the world had close to 2 billion smartphone users worldwide. While remote areas and small pockets remain disconnected, the gaps are getting smaller and smaller every year because of decreased prices, expanding geographical ranges, and improved usability.
In America, individuals check their phones an average 46 times every day. In addition to answering and making calls, people use their smartphones to shop, watch TV, browse news articles, play games, check email, use navigational apps, pay bills, and make financial transactions. People can use their devices to do everything they can on a traditional PC, and individuals across demographics are naturally transitioning to using a smartphone instead of a more cumbersome laptop, desktop, or tablet.
Some additional trends that underscore the changes in cellular communication include:
- Screen size. Companies are optimizing screens to fit comfortably as a handheld device while providing enough screen space for engaging in the most common online activities.
- Messaging platforms. Facebook, Microsoft, Google, and other messaging applications are developing chatbots as new platforms for businesses to connect with consumers. The mobile device will serve as a key connecting point for individuals who prefer to chat instead of engaging in a traditional third-party app or browser experience.
- Shift toward remote AV communications. Fiber optic cabling, improved mobile telecommunications technology (is 5G connectivity just around the corner?), and other advancements are improving mobile audio-visual (AV) experiences. Every smartphone has a speaker and camera. All a user needs is an app and the right connection to engage in a seamless face-to-face interaction, and AV is the intersection between traditional phone communications and digital collaboration.
- The evolving nature of social media. Nielson data released in the summer of 2015 indicated that social media activity claimed 14 percent of total smartphone usage, with Facebook taking the lead. Today, those numbers could be higher. Social media continues to play a distinct role in changing the way humans connect with one another remotely.
Get Ready for the Next Disruptions in Mobile Connectivity
Instead of losing sight of the true nature of cell phones, these devices are evolving to encompass an even greater range of connective possibilities. While it may not provide the same person-to-person experience as a phone call, each app does connect individuals, businesses, and communities. Alerts improve a meteorologist’s ability to forewarn an affected area, while pushed notifications keep individuals abreast of the latest developments in a breaking news story.
As mentioned before, digital transformation is all about mobility, and our transition away from cell phone usage as primarily a phone device is part of that transformation. Whether for business or entertainment, we engage with our devices for a plethora of reasons that don’t involve voice calls. Smartphone users clip coupons, engage in remote therapy sessions, and video chat with doctors. In fact, mobile device functionality is only limited by human creativity. The next questions consumers and developers must answer are:
- How far will social media and messaging platforms go to bridge communications between brands and consumers?
- Do people prefer asynchronous communication? Or will synchronous experiences become the new norm in a culture that values instant gratification?
- How will the next advancements in mobile AV technology change the mobile device experience? Will we all wear augmented or virtual reality headsets to join remote, realistic meetings in the near future?
2016 is an exciting year for communication advancement. With virtual reality headsets ready to hit the market, augmented reality set to enter the arena in the next few years, and the development of chatbot communication as a platform, the “cell phone” experience will likely remain in flux for years to come. It may soon be time to rebrand our mobile devices for what they really are or simply accept that the definition of the term “cell phone” has expanded far beyond the limited connotation of the past.
This article was brought to you in part by HP, Inc. Opinions and thoughts are those of the author.
Daniel Newman is the Principal Analyst of Futurum Research and the CEO of Broadsuite Media Group. Living his life at the intersection of people and technology, Daniel works with the world’s largest technology brands exploring Digital Transformation and how it is influencing the enterprise. From Big Data to IoT to Cloud Computing, Newman makes the connections between business, people and tech that are required for companies to benefit most from their technology projects, which leads to his ideas regularly being cited in CIO.Com, CIO Review and hundreds of other sites across the world. A 5x Best Selling Author including his most recent “Building Dragons: Digital Transformation in the Experience Economy,” Daniel is also a Forbes, Entrepreneur and Huffington Post Contributor. MBA and Graduate Adjunct Professor, Daniel Newman is a Chicago Native and his speaking takes him around the world each year as he shares his vision of the role technology will play in our future.