Mobile’s End of the Beginning

Mobile’s hegemony over our lives may seem as obvious as Mrs. Robinson’s seduction attempts in The Graduate, but two remarkable statistics starkly illustrate how smartphones and tablets have completely seduced our society:

• Sometime this year, according to Cisco, the number of mobile devices will surpass the number of people in the world.

• U.S. factory revenue from sales of smartphones and tablets last year surpassed revenue from all other consumer electronics – combined.

Even more remarkable is how speedily this seduction has been achieved. Consider: the modern mobile ecosystem was born June 29, 2007, the day the original iPhone went on sale. In less than seven short years, smartphones have gone from zero to domination.

By comparison, technology’s previously most prominent product, TV, didn’t reach 90-plus household penetration in the U.S. until the early 1960s, nearly 20 years after its consumer availability.

But until now, our increasingly mobile-centric society has been driven by hardware, smartphones and tablets. That may be about to change as four wireless connectivity technologies come to the fore.

Wireless is the new cool

If the recent Mobile World Congress is any measure, it looks as if the cool new hardware phase of our mobile universe is coming to an end. Even MWC’s flashiest fresh phone, the Samsung Galaxy S5, includes little that’s breakthrough cool.

It can be argued that both smartphones and tablets have reached commodity status, Apple’s rumored iPhone 6 phablets notwithstanding.

Instead of cool new hardware, mobile’s wow may be generated from the development of four wireless platforms.

1. Smart Bluetooth, aka Bluetooth Low Energy (LE), aka Bluetooth 4.0. We’ve already seen the initial rush of Smart Bluetooth-imbued products – fitness wristbands, smart watches, heart rate/blood pressure sensors, smart scales…

But these smart products may merely form the tip of a Smart Bluetooth iceberg. For instance, Smart Bluetooth may make keys as archaic as 8-track tape and a rotary phone. A new breed of smart front door bolt locks, which include the Kevo Unikey and the pending Goji and August bolt locks that, thanks to Smart Bluetooth, don’t require a key, just proximity.

Away from home, several hotels have begun testing keyless Bluetooth 4.0 room entry. And Apple is about to launch its location-centric, Smart Bluetooth-powered iBeacon in most major league baseball stadiums this summer.

Then there is the new breed of “smart” clothing and accessories integrated with bio sensors, such as Sensoria smart socks, smart workout gear from Athos due this summer and prescription Google Glass.

We’re about to see an avalanche of Smart Bluetooth devices, many combined with –

2. Near Field Communication (NFC). Yes, tap-to-pay-by-smartphone solutions via smart wallets such as ISIS and Google Wallet have been slow to take off, as have tap-to-pair Bluetooth earphones. But like that boiling frog, NFC is slowly working its way into a variety of applications, such as its imminent inclusion in new smartSD memory cards.

Perhaps NFC’s most visible placement is in MagicBand wristbands worn by visitors to Disney’s theme parks, which replace ride tickets, credit cards at park stores and hotel room keys.

We’re only feeling the first drizzle of what pomises to be a deluge of Smart Bluetooth and/or NFC products and product categories.

3. Passpoint Wi-Fi. A mobile phone connects to local cellular networks without effort. Passpoint Wi-Fi duplicates cellular’s automatic and secure connectivity, creating a cell-like ubiquitous web of Wi-Fi around the world.

Nearly 80 percent of all global carriers are expecting to launch Passpoint by the end of 2015. But Boingo, the world’s largest hotspot supplier, just launched Passpoint in 21 U.S. airports, and more Boingo locations are sure to follow. I recently enjoyed brainless Boingo Passpoint connectivity at LaGuardia and Newark-Liberty Airports.

In a few years, it’ll be possible to take an international trip without ever losing your speedy Wi-Fi connection. It’s easy (at least for me) to see how disruptive automatic and ubiquitous Wi-Fi can be.

4. LTE Advanced/Wideband. 4G LTE Advanced, aka LTE Wideband or LTE-A, promises to deliver data at 150-300 Mbps, more than 10 times speedier than today’s 4G LTE connections. Several cellular carriers around the world already have begun limited rollout of this new speedy cellular service.

But the implications of LTE Advanced are broader than simply faster downloads to mobile devices. Such speedy wireless connectivity could provide consumers cable-free home Internet connectivity options and give cable companies some home broadband competition.

It is these wireless infrastructures, not smartphones or tablets, that represents the future of mobile wow.