When we speak about technological evolution in communication, it has spanned many decades beginning in the early 1950s and reached a crescendo in the technological revolution of the 1990s. Till then we went to a cinema to see a film. We went to the library to conduct research. We went to the mailbox as a point from which to send or receive a letter. We went to the living room couch to watch television. In other words, we went to the device or the area from which sending or receiving information occurred.
A multiplicity of factors fueled the revolution; the combination of the internet, personal computers, and finally wireless communications, created an environment where technology, application, and price have converged. This convergence creating a whole array of new opportunities. The results of the continuing development of these new opportunities and technologies has given us the laptop computer, which evolved into the ubiquitous smartphone, and tablets. These (now) indispensable devices have effectively broken the bonds of where and how we can communicate and consume information. As the ever growing Internet has exploded into every aspect of our lives, combined with greater speeds and bandwidth, we now have a nearly unlimited amount of data at our disposal nearly instantaneously. All of the historical ways we sent and received information have by necessity morphed into the wireless mobile age.
One critical enabling technology has been an integral part of this revolution, as it has changed how we connect with our devices. Of course, I am speaking touch interactivity or touch screens. As we all know, in the early days of computing the interface was physical, the keyboard (and then the mouse). Like the physical limitations we had when we had to travel to a specific place to connect with information, the need for a physical device to interact with our electronics constrained how we could use them to access information. For many, the lack of natural input was intimidating, and added a layer of complexity to these devices, making them difficult to use. The concept of touch interfaces (and especially multitouch) broke away from those constraints and took advantage of the innate human tendency to use touch as the natural tool to make things happen. While basic touch technologies go back decades, most would agree that it was the ascendance of the smartphone in concert with social media that has driven our demand and dependence of this dynamic duo in our daily lives.
Research shows that there were 62.6 million smartphones in use in the USA in 2010. By 2015 this had grown to 190.5 million and it is forecasted to be 236.8 million users by 2019. As of the 2014 census there were just under 320 million people in the USA, so over 60% of the population has a smartphone and this user number is growing in double digits each year. In addition, a significant number of smartphone users also have a tablet at their disposal. Leaving the quantitative and going to the qualitative for a moment, just think about how many people go about their day continuously directing their eyes at their smartphones. It might be a phone call, but more commonly today it is text messaging, social media, or occasionally an email, and the person receiving it simply touches the screen to respond.
Since so many people have smartphones and tablets that they have come to depend on, this has permeated the work environments as well. With how useful these devices and apps are, with how connected they make us, smartphones are an indispensable tool for us in the office. This is often placed under the banner of BYOD or bring your own device. Historically, the company that a person worked for provided a desk based phone system to be used for business, as well as a desktop PC to be used as a work tool. This evolved into company issued laptops and cell phones. Today, employers are embracing the idea that a user who selects their own device, and brings it with them into their role at the company can be hugely beneficial. Today nearly 50% of employees use their own personal devices to communicate business issues even before formal permissions or policies are instituted. It is estimated that by the end of 2016 this number will exceed 80% of employees who will be eligible to use their own equipment with employee centric data. There are several issues to consider in BYOD, not the least of which is security and confidential information, but these hurdles among numerous others will fall at the feet of the IT departments. In short, this is a technological wave that cannot be stopped.
All of the discussion so far has been about personal/portable devices but there is another communication medium that speaks at a more macro level and that is digital signage. Just as impressive as the smartphone numbers are, the fact is that 80% of the population of the USA comes into daily contact with digital signage of one form or another. At its core, digital signage is built around a network of displays that can be remotely managed and whose business model revolves around merchandising, advertising, entertainment, and/or corporate or educational communication. Digital signage originally saw the light of day as a retail advertising medium, but over the last 10 years is has evolved into a communication tool with uses far beyond the scale and scope of the original opportunity. As is common with technologies, necessity becomes the mother of invention and often from outside sources and so it is with digital signage which has been fueled by the acceptance of smart phones and the burgeoning demand for interactivity.
This is where the concept of BYOD and digital signage converges. Let’s take a company like Samsung as a great example of “getting it” early on. It is no secret that they are the worldwide leader in smartphones. They also have a whole series of tablets from small to medium to large. In addition, they also are the leader in flat panel display technologies, most of which are available with touch screen capability as an option. None of this product development has been random or by accident. As students of BYOD and digital signage, Samsung is taking advantage of the convergence factor. If you have a smartphone (and you do) and you are confronted with digital signage each day (and you are), it is a natural extension that the smartphone or tablet communicate wirelessly with the digital signage. This connection creates a two-way path of communications where the viewer actually is and many times where they are going. The smartphone speaks to the display and the display can speak to and react with the smartphone in real time.
There are also new companies out there that are facilitating this connection. One such company is MoZONE. They use a proprietary Wi-Fi configuration where a person walks into a store or a company and they are asked if they want to be connected to the network. This gives the potential participant access to the internet but also to the network and displays inside a given store. The smartphone via the network connects to the digital signage content, taking the message to the second screen that also helps connect more closely with the user. The cool thing is that once a person opts in, they do not have to do it again.
The bottom line is that the way we communicate has changed forever and will be evolving even further. Where newspaper and broadcast TV used to be the way we received information with one to many as the model, today the new model is rapidly becoming one to one. It has already become personal and portable. From personal use and social media, to BYOD for employees of companies not to mention digital signage becoming a part of our daily lives, we are in a new era of how we send and receive information. It is safe to say that whether we like it or not, the reality is that the majority of us are constantly connected on a personal level.