Mobile devices are revolutionizing our world allowing us to connect, communicate and collaborate in ways not previously possible. The always on, always with us, always connected device in your pocket could be argued as one of the most powerful tools ever created, but the reality is that we are only beginning to understand and apply it’s full potential.
The mobile revolution is being driven by the perfect storm between connectivity, availability, processing power and functionality. There are now more places on earth with cell coverage than without, and this availability is only increasing. While access is improving, so is the rate at which data is being transferred; it’s more and more common to find 3G access in remote rural areas. The number of mobile subscribers is also dramatically increasing largely due to drop in the price of handsets; for every one desktop computer in Sub Saharan Africa, there are now fourteen mobile phones. At the same time as the price is decreasing, the processing power of devices is growing exponentially, greatly increasing their capabilities.
While faster devices with increased access in the hands of more users is important, the real power of mobile lies in it’s applications and the ability to combine the individual device capabilities in a unique way. Mobile is more than a communication tool but also a powerful data gathering device, an aid to help in decision making, means to notify users of important events and a platform for collaboration.
To understand the true potential of mobile, you must view the full spectrum of features available on these devices. Even the most basic devices still have phone, SMS, MMS and USSD capabilities making it a powerful platform for gathering and sharing data. Devices with a camera allow users to capture photos or video, as well as to view that media. Internet-enabled devices allows access to online content as well as sending and receiving of email. GPS-enabled devices allow users to detect their current location, track their route, even detect which direction they are facing. Smartphone devices with touch screens greatly improve user interaction while accelerators can detect the device orientation we well as the users motion. Bluetooth, NFC, IrDa and WiFi enables communication with other nearby devices.
Now each of these features individually are not that interesting, for example a digital camera can also take photos and capture video. However a digital camera is not internet-enabled, can not detect the current location and does not have access to the users address book. So compared to a digital camera, a mobile app utilizing the other device features can also geo-tag the photo with the current latitude and longitude, auto-detect faces and match with friends from their address book, detect the current direction the user is facing, instantly shares that media with friends via the internet, building an online map of user collected photos and videos stitching together an accurate timeline of important events. Sounds pretty amazing? Well the Color app for the iPhone already does exactly this, but its only possible because it combines several of the device capabilities in a unique way.
Street Bump is another very innovative idea that utilizes the smartphone’s accelerometer and GPS capabilities to detect when a driver hits a pothole and automatically sends that information to city officials. The system works because it takes advantage of location-aware and internet-enabled devices that are already present in the pockets of commuters. Viewing every driver as a potential data collection point is allowing the city of Boston to crowdsource their pothole map, a task that previously would have required expensive network sensors.
Mobile Crop Disease Surveillance app being developed by the Makerere University Students in Uganda is a highly automated smartphone-based survey system for detecting crop disease. The system uses low-end camera-enabled phones to diagnose viral damage by sharing that information online. Although these low-end devices do not have GPS-capabilities, registering a farmer’s mobile number with the location of their land can automatically map incoming MMS, building a real time map of crop disease in the region. It’s a great example that even low-end devices can be an important tool in data gathering.
Safety Siren is an ingenious iPhone app developed by YWCA Canada that activates a loud siren upon pressing the safety button or shaking the device which automatically shares your location. The brilliance behind the app comes by combining the touch-screen and accelerometer, along with the GPS capabilities and internet access sending an urgent SOS email or making an emergency phone call to a friend or family member when the user is in an unsafe situation.
M-Farm is SMS-based solution aiming to empower buyers and sellers with accurate market information. The tool utilizes SMS as a platform allowing any SMS-capable phone to obtain accurate market prices. For example in Kenya sending the text message ‘price tomatoes nairobi’ to 3535 will return the suggested market price. It’s a great example that even the low-end devices can be a powerful communication tool.
Good Guide mobile app is a shopping tool helping empower consumers to buy safe, healthy, green products by providing ratings and personal recommendations for over 115,000 products by utilizing the devices camera as a barcode scanner. Good Guide is a great example of mobile being used a decision making tool, providing valuable information on the spot.
Trapster is a mobile application that allows anyone to submit the location of speed traps or enforcement cameras and notifies users of nearby hazards. The solution utilizes the devices GPS capability and internet access to become a community based high-tech early warning system.
WordLens is a revolutionary idea that utilizes the built-in video camera to detect text on signs, and then automatically translate and replace that text to your desired language. While most other translation tools require the user to type in the text they would like translated, WordLens utilizes the built-in camera and OCR technology to simplify the process making translation drop dead simple. WordLens truly works like magic, but it’s only the very beginning of whats possible.
As a brainstorming exercise, write down the following phrases each on their own index card: make phone call, receive phone call, send SMS, receive SMS, send MMS, receive MMS, take photo, view photo, capture video, play video, record audio, play audio, detect location, route tracking, compass direction, view map, detect date, device orientation, detect motion, touch screen, send email, receive email, internet access, detect environmental brightness, Bluetooth, NFC, IrDa, WiFi, USSD, scan barcode, generate barcode, enter data, store data, manipulate data.
Now look at the previous examples, which of the following features did each utilize? What innovative ideas can you think of by combining the various mobile features in a unique way?