Editor’s note: Paul Holland is a general partner at Foundation Capital, helping early-stage startups go from zero to $100 million in revenue. He was previously a senior vice president of worldwide sales at Kana Communications.
Watching my two-year-old nephew Dashiel interact with his mother’s iPad made me realize that he was born into an era unlike any in history. As he grows up his expectations about how information should be presented and processed, and how interfaces should respond, will be profoundly different from how we experience technology today.
Mobile is now the channel of choice for everyone, but even those of us who use technology with great alacrity are still digital immigrants. Dashiel represents a new age: the Mobile Born — a generation of kids that have been raised while literally gnawing on the equivalent of a supercomputer — otherwise known as mom’s smartphone.
This fact will have a dramatic impact on how companies, consumers and society as a whole manage and view technology.
A New Enterprise
It’s hard to believe, but only a few years ago technology in the workplace was a top-down affair. The IT department decided what hardware got deployed, which applications were used and how business practices got enforced.
Then a tiny crack in the IT blockade broke open when C-suite executives, enamored by the stylish, functional and intuitive iPhone, trotted these devices into enterprises and told IT, “Make this work.” IT, accustomed to telling users “no,” had no choice but to listen, and they effectively gave rise to the BYOD trend we’ve seen explode since the iPhone launched in 2007.
Today, companies are not just allowing smartphones, but many are embracing mobility and transforming their business practices and work arrangements and driving new levels of productivity and value creation through mobility: MobileIron is leading the charge in the enterprise mobility management space; Bitglass is delivering transparent data security; Averail is creating a content management solution for smartphones and tablets; Lookout is making the post-PC era safer for everyone; and Mobile Helix is securing the enterprise mobile web.
These changes are the essence of the mobile-first movement, but they will give way to a new and more dynamic process as the mobile-born users enter the workforce.
The mobile-born generation will drive a radical rethinking of office productivity. Fast-forward a few years and we’ll see a new workplace with workstations akin to air traffic control centers powered by multiple touch-, swipe- and voice-enabled devices, allowing workers to visualize and manipulate information tactically, driving the adoption of new user-interfaces and fundamental changes in software and hardware. Think the new FOX newsroom, just without the “fair and balanced” reporting.
The way we interact with colleagues or business partners will change as we move to a mobile enterprise environment. We’re beginning to see new companies focused on augmented memory. Refresh, for instance, has created a dossier to put an end to small talk for your next business meeting. A nice-to-have now, but as the mobile-born mature, these services will become a must-have.
But this is just the beginning. It’s hardly far-fetched to imagine companies that exist and are run entirely in the cloud by a de-territorialized mobile workforce. Already we carry much of our day job’s office communications, data, colleagues, customers and products around in our pockets. This trend will only accelerate as the mobile-born found their own companies around entirely new expectations for organizational structures and workforce optimization.
A Shift In Consumer Engagement
As the mobile-born generation grows up, other unforeseen expectations will need to be met.
Watch any 12-year-old do homework and you’ll see that the notion of the “second-screen” is already a passé concept – TV, laptop, smartphone, iPod and tablet combine into a multi-layered information gathering and communications experience.
When the mobile-born reach their teenage years, their ability to process information and levels of interactivity will go far beyond what’s possible today, and their shift in consumption habits – right down to the way in which they watch TV – will only continue. Fifteen years from now, we may reach the “nth-screen,” as multiple screens may not only be watched but worn, while cameras capture, record and broadcast live conversations across the room and around the world.
As a result, we’re already seeing a new wave of companies whose DNA is 100 percent mobile. Kik, for instance, was born of the need for a cross-platform messaging tool on mobile devices. Kik was never resident on the desktop and is a perfect example of the frictionless communication that the mobile-born will come to expect.
But by the time Dashiel is behind the wheel, his expectations for seamless, safe communications will need to be solved well beyond what’s possible today. If he’s in a thread in Kik and has to hop in the car, he’s going to want to stay in that message. This will require messaging technology embedded directly into the infrastructure of cars to become the norm just like radios and then CD players once were. And God forbid he’s ever in an accident, companies like Snapsheet will ensure the insurance-claim process is as simple as it can be.
What Will The Mobile-Born Future Look Like?
Today, the expectation is that everyone has a high-bandwidth connection to the Internet. The future of the mobile-born is that on steroids, and entrepreneurs will rise to the need, seize the opportunity and start creating solutions for things yet to be imagined.
The clear winner in this future will be the Internet of Things. The mobile-born will expect everything to be software-driven, have rich functionality and be network-aware – Nest being a pioneering company in this new direction.
At the other end of the spectrum, my nephew’s grandmother laments the decline of interpersonal communication. No one’s writing letters anymore and people aren’t talking face-to-face as frequently. She’s right. But for Dashiel, a mobile-mediated reality will be all he knows.