Mobile+: transcending mobile and the evolution of the digital portfolio

As new offerings from Apple, Google and others are integrated into the digital portfolios of clients, users and agencies, Paul Napier coins a name for the new generation of developers are being given the chance to arise: ‘Mobile+’.

Each year Apple and Google compete to bring increasingly audacious technologies to market. As a marketer it can sometimes be difficult to know who to approach for advice on how these new innovations can help our clients and users. Welcome to the era of Mobile+. But how did we arrive here?

On a chilly Cupertino Wednesday in October 2007 the world was casually informed that their way of life would change profoundly. But beyond the general population, there was a subset of people, myself included, whose lives would be so heavily impacted we would barely be able to remember what it was like before the advent of iPhone. Apple had created an industry: mobile app development.

In 2008, when the first software development kit (SDK) was released, mobile app development was fairly straightforward. There was one device. One screen size. Two orientations. Apps would run in portrait, or landscape or have it transition between layouts and the concept was one of immediate need fulfillment. Brands could integrate an app into their digital portfolio that simply performed a task, which enhanced a user’s life.

Then the likes of Apple, Samsung, Sony, Nokia, Blackberry and others began to add more dimensions, greater functionality, APIs and new devices to their phone portfolios. So we adapted, learned the relevant programming languages, grew. Mobile development became more of an art than a job and each new release gave us opportunities to discover ways of meeting clients’ and users’ expectations through improved speed, functionality and technology.

Tablets were released and a new dimension of creativity began. Apps that were hitherto confined by the space of a standard mobile phone were given free reign in the not-quite-laptop sized arena. Since this technology is something you can pick up and take with you, and since it follows similar rules, structures and layouts as well as the same programming languages and APIs, this was absorbed in the catchall ‘mobile’. And yet this term already began to feel strained as brands had to make choices over how to interact with their users when discussing the creation of apps.

Fast forward a few years to the current day, where the exciting news has arrived of the Apple Watch hitting the stores in 2015. Throughout this time we have seen a surge in technology breakthroughs: smartphones, tablets, clothing, jewellery, cars, watches, glasses and even fridges. Utilities, apparell and appliances all talk to us or help us to perform our daily tasks. We integrate a host of touchable screen sizes on various parts of our body through the day even using biometric data to identify ourselves. Usage across these technologies is growing at an explosive rate with the Australian market penetration for smartphones alone being predicted as high as 90% in 2015 (Australian Smartphone Market Study 2011-2015).

And who do we look at when we think about these technologies? Mobile app developers? Perhaps. But if so, this leaves us with two options:

  1. We explore a new way to define the developers that cover these areas – perhaps a mobile developer is just that: one who creates apps for mobile phones, and these new platforms are a separate and new development area akin to the way the role was created for the original mobile development pioneers, or
  2. we redefine the meaning of ‘mobile’ beyond the scope of phones – the raw constraint of a mobile developer is no longer applicable, since technology has expanded beyond it.

Truthfully, though, the answer lies in combining both. When we work in any environment, we cannot be constrained by the limitations of a title. Nor can we allow technology to move beyond us. We are living in a time where users are being given exciting new ways for them to interact with the world, their friends and their favourite brands. Now ‘mobile’ development means riding on the crest of technology changes, seeking innovation as we would draw breath. These burgeoning technologies open up avenues and choices for existing mobile developers to grow and transcend beyond the standard definition.

This parallels with our clients, who now seek guidance and advice on the right technologies, platforms and systems to help them express their messages and address their customers’ needs. The idea of the digital portfolio has evolved beyond a simply a website, a social presence and possibly a smartphone app. It is now a living breathing ecosystem, which encapsulates anything from a simple Facebook app, through to a system of integrated cross-platform, multi-device applications and can give birth to a new concept at any time. We must think beyond the means to deliver and focus on the message in a truly agnostic fashion.

So, as we seek to integrate the new offerings from Apple, Google and others into our clients’, our users’ and our own digital portfolios, a new generation of developers have been given the chance to arise: ‘Mobile+’.

Paul Napier
BY Paul Napier ON 24 November 2014
Paul Napier is senior mobile developer at We Are Social, a communications agency that specialises in socially-led thinking.