Smartphones are Becoming the Hub of our Digital Lifestyles

on November 22, 2013

In 2003 I began a series of lectures at conferences entitled “Three Screens of the Digital Lifestyle.” Starting in 2000 I began researching how people were using various screens in their lives and made the assumption that over the next 5-7 years all of our screens would be digital and would have some type of an OS that made them smart. The three screens I focused on where the PC, TV and the feature phone at first and by 2007, after Apple introduced the iPhone, the third screen became a smart phone in my talks.

In these lectures I basically laid out how these screens would become the hub our digital lifestyles and at the time suggested that the smartest screen was the PC. Thanks to Apple, we were already seeing the PC serve that central role since the iPod needed the PC to sync with as the iPod music library was on the PC and was managed on the PC too. Actually, the Mac was at the heart of Apple’s overall idea of a PC being a hub. At MacWorld in 2001, Steve Jobs’ keynote focused specifically on the idea of the “Mac being the hub our our digital lifestyle” as Jobs put it and over the next three years he made a major effort to deliver on that vision.

Eventually the Cloud became the hub for Apple as they began to move more and more of our content to their iCloud and use it to store our music and apps and then push them down to our devices. Consequently the data sync was now cloud based and the Mac or the PC played less of a role as our digital lifestyle hub. However, the idea of a digital device being a hub is still alive and in fact, in many ways the smartphone itself is becoming a very important hub in its own right.

If you have one of the current wearable health monitors you are already using it as an important hub in your own lifestyle. In my case my preferred wearable is the Nike FuelBand. I wear it 24 hours a day and it records my steps, gives me the amount of calories I burn and as designed, it pushes me to move more throughout my day.

At the end of my day I sync it to my smartphone where the data is compiled and analyzed and it keeps a running weekly tally of my movements so I can compare them against other weeks in the records. It uses Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) radio signals for this synchronization and more and more devices of all types will rely on this important extension of the Bluetooth radio being used in a whole host of wearables and other devices that use the smartphone as the central hub of the data it collects..

My smartphone has become an important hub in a lot of other ways too. In fact, I point out in my column in Time magazine this week that the smartphone has become a “Swiss Army Knife of Gadgets.”

It now has become my GPS system, my digital camera, my flashlight, my voice recorder, etc. With the plethora of software and services available on my smartphone, its hub like nature makes it the most important digital screen in my life.

In the next few years, the smartphone’s role as a hub will become even more interesting. There is another function to these devices that when tied to sensor’s give them even more unique capabilities. The heart of this is embodied in something call beacons. Beacons are small sensors that can be attached to physical objects that use BLE to send short bursts of data to your smartphone. Apple is leading the charge with something called iBeacons but Google, Microsoft and others all are creating beacon’s for their platforms as well.

One interesting example of this is how Major League Baseball is going to use these in their stadiums. They plan to put iBeacons throughout a stadium and when a person comes in proximity of the sensor it can send them related info that could be of interest to them. That info could be stats about a player that is coming to bat, specials from a concession stand that will give them a discount on some sports item if the buy in the next hour or even specials from their food booths.

In retail stores a company could put a Beacon on an end cap holding Levi’s 505 jeans and as a person with the stores app on it walks by the display it can send an alert that perhaps says “get 20% of 505’s if you buy in the next 30 minutes.” Macy’s is about to do a pilot test using Apple’s iBeacons that would alert shoppers of specials as they walk by specific displays where an iBeacon is attached to it.

I am not sure that Steve Jobs really understood the impact of the iPhone when he introduced it but what he did understand is that it would be a platform for innovation and indeed that is what it has become. No wonder we are selling 1 billion smartphones a year now and by 2017 over 2 billion smart phones that will serve as hubs to digital lifestyles will be sold each year and feature phones will mostly be gone.

Although we will continue to see solid growth in tablets and they will also become a platform for innovation, it is pretty clear to me that smartphones will be where most of the real action will take place and its role as a hub will only be expanded over the next few years.