When mobile phones first took center stage in the 1980s, they were large, cumbersome and as much about show as function. But, by the 1990s, cell phones became less a status symbol for millionaires and more a useful tool for professionals on the road. Traveling sales staff could check in with the next client, and office staff could get hold of them wherever they were.
As the 1990s progressed and cell phones grew in popularity, business became more agile. Before, employees were reachable at home or in the office, now they could be contacted on the move. Plans could change and, because workers were connected, solutions could be implemented with greater speed.
The Internet has arguably been the biggest catalyst for change, turning these simple communication devices into essential technology; but smartphones have opened the Net up too.
Before the modern smartphone hit the market — the iPhone has been around for less than a decade, remember — the Internet was far from portable. Tethered to desktops, it was a research tool that had yet to make it into every home. Now, the web permeates every aspect of our lives.
Disruptive startups like Uber and AirBnB have capitalized on the relationship between the Net and mobile devices, revolutionizing industries that had have happily operated the same business model for decades. The link between these disruptive startups? Agility.
If cell phones made businesses in the 90s more agile, then e-commerce giants like Amazon made consumers in the 2000s more demanding. We want everything cheaper and faster, and mobile technology delivers. Uber, dispensing with the need to dispatch drivers from a central office, can provide cars within a matter of minutes based on location data sent by a passenger’s smartphone. Their strategies increase operating efficiency; delivering production gains to the business, increasing the speed of service for customers, and providing more opportunities for workers to gain fares.
Which brings us to the next big innovation brought about by mobile devices, the way we earn. These disruptive businesses rely on a network of freelancers to operate their capital light models, giving employees the opportunity to use personal assets such as bikes, cars, and apartments to earn on their own terms.
Marketing too, has been revolutionized by mobile devices. Google’s new buzzword, micro moments, describes an entirely new approach to the journey to purchase. Technologies like iBeacons offer public attractions the opportunity to engage with nearby consumers via their mobile devices increasing engagement.
Disruptive startups like Uber and AirBnB have utilized mobile devices and smartphones to change our approach to everyday services. But it’s a mistake to imagine that these are the only areas where revolution is likely to take place.
If relatively minor sectors like food delivery and transportation can be completely changed by mobile technology, imagine the potential it has to revolutionize other sectors. The banking and investment sectors are also changing in response to mobile technology. From cash transfers to mortgage applications, most banks now offer apps and online support that allows customers to manage almost every aspect of their account remotely. Investment apps like Nutmeg are changing our approach to portfolio management, while Circle and Venmo are leading the way with free money transfers via text. As consumer confidence in these services grows, and the demand for remote banking increases, the popularity of these services is only going to rise.
The Future is Now
On-demand services are growing in popularity, and mobile-ready businesses are uniquely placed to capitalize on the changing needs of consumers, workers and organizations. With the potential to completely revolutionize how we connect with the world around us, disruptive mobile technologies are likely to drive significant social and economic change over the next few years.