Phone-as-a-Service?

It’s time to think differently about our future phones. We’re using them in remarkably different ways than we did 10 years ago. We are increasingly “appnostic,” meaning we pick up our phones without any particular app in mind. We’re looking to entertain, amuse, or educate ourselves during those “in-between” moments while we wait for a friend, an Uber, or a coffee. 

Subtle changes in the interface and intelligence of our phones hint at their future. There are built-in news services (just swipe right). Phones now automatically interpret our location relative to our calendar and let us know we need to leave early for our meeting across town. Our phones look into our email and identify callers that aren’t in our contact list, all without installing any new apps. 

It’s becoming clear that we’re headed toward a new vision for our devices: the Phone as a Service (PaaS). Yes, sounds crazy, but look at the parallels between your phone and how/why other “X”s have become services:

  • Centralization– X-as-a-service (XaaS) is delivery of X directly via the internet, eliminating the need to use and manage multiple and independent solutions on locally hosted devices, right? So, PaaS is the delivery of personalized media via the phone, eliminating the need to use and manage multiple and independent, locally hosted apps. We’re already seeing that happen.
  • Efficiency– XaaS cuts costs and simplifies IT deployments with smaller IT infrastructure, fewer services, hard drives, switches, and software updates. PaaS cuts time wasted with inefficient UI and UX, such as taps, swipes, searching, waiting, etc., as well as reducing device app installs and the need to update multiple apps. This, too, is well underway. Have you traveled abroad recently? Your phone automatically updates time and distance across all your apps, and may even adjust news and alerts to your location without any requested action from you, the user.
  • Adoption/Deployment – Some organizations have been tentative to adopt XaaS, fearing a negative impact on business with respect to security, compliance, and governance concerns. Similarly, some telcos have been tentative to adopt PaaS, fearing impact on core subscriber business (appeal, churn). 

PaaS is imminent. As consumers demand more of their phones, carriers and OEMs need to respond. Telcos should be thinking more about the loyalty they can potentially earn than worrying about losing subscribers to competitors. There’s little downside to creating a smarter, more intuitive device, and the time and environment are ideal for this next forward step.

  • There’s more AI than ever before. Artificial intelligence is now a part of our everyday lives, and it’s almost ubiquitous. We see it in our cars, in our streaming music and banking apps — everywhere. It’s already part of our phones, so expanding the capabilities of our virtual assistants and other elements of the operating system is not a stretch. We tell our phones to remind us to get milk while we’re in the supermarket. Over time, the phone will recognize that we’re in the supermarket and ask if we need milk. That’s AI making the phone more useful. 
  • There’s more content than ever before. Between social media, nascent news networks, music streaming services, and emerging film studios, we can read, watch, play, or listen to anything at any time. Our phone learns what we like and can serve up content we’ll like just as well or find more helpful at any time. 
  • There’s more appnosticism than ever before. Eighty-nine percent of mobile users open their phones with no particular app in mind. They’re looking for something to engage them in the moment and help them pass the time or fulfill a non-critical need.
  • There’s more interest in new content discovery than ever before. Nearly 70% of users would like to see better content discovery mechanisms on their devices. When you combine that statistic with the high degree of appnosticism and the universe of new content, there’s a clear opportunity for carriers and OEMs to surface useful, interesting, or entertaining content to users in those moments that we are motivated to unlock our phones. For the many carriers who have their own production studios and streaming services, this is an even bigger opportunity. 
  • There’s never been more of an opportunity to reinvent how we think of our phones. Since the smartphone was introduced more than a decade ago, there’s been little change to the operating system. Sure, there have been incremental improvements, but it’s only gotten slightly smarter over the years. OEMs and carriers have a tremendous window through which they can make the smartphone even more useful than it is today. 

Our phones are our maps, our alarm clocks, our cameras, our address books, and so much more. With the stars aligned as they are today, smartphones can become our indispensable personal assistants to an even greater degree, learning not only about the best route to work on a Wednesday morning, but that we like to listen to new country while we’re waiting for the bus, we’re interested in finding craft breweries when we visit a new city, or that we want to know about the sale at Old Navy, but not the one at Gap.

When our phones can serve up the relevant content we want and need in the moments and places in which we desire that content, they’ve achieved PaaS status — and we should all be pretty excited about that. 

Greg is a 20+ year veteran of interactive marketing and advertising. He has held leadership roles in areas spanning the areas of business development, corporate strategy, campaign optimization, research, and advertising sales. Prior to Mobile Posse, Greg was COO at VoodooVox where he lead advertising sales and all sales, marketing and PR operating functions.

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