Insight Constellations, Part One

Connecting the Signal Dots

CCS_predicts_lAs the CCS Insight Predictions for 2016 and Beyond event approaches, we’re looking back at some recurring themes from Daily Insights in the past year or so. Three might make a trend, but it takes at least five alerts to build awareness. Here’s the first part of a list that recognizes these constellations.

Device designs: the world is still flat, but curves off in the distance.

There’s generally bad news for users who yearn for the days of flagship mystery: when it wasn’t clear if the next hit device would be a horizontal slider or a vertical Qwerty, a foldable or a twistable, or perhaps even some strange round shape.

But now we’re already quite sure that the next device will be centred on a flat, black screen. The shape of the display reflects the content it connects to — the messaging apps, the games or the videos — and the standard is set. The unknown variables are the device’s insides. We’ve noted a few attempts at extreme differentiation in 2015, including retro handsets, modular phone experiments and Sharp’s walking, talking Robohon (see Daily Insight: Personal Digital Robot), but they’re really just playful aberrations or science experiments.

The monoblock design isn’t going anywhere, though there are mild alterations to flatness. Screens are curving in and out. They’re getting depth of input and more richness in their output.

For those who think that the smartphone industry needs a breath of fresh air, there’s no need for total despair. Beauty is more than skin deep, and much of the excitement now rests with the underlying components and array of services. The fine skills of device designers still matter, but much of the creativity has been redirected to usability and services. The painting-by-numbers approach to handsets has brought down costs and enabled the most prolific consumer electronics device in history (see Daily Insight: The Most Prolific Devices on Earth). The flat trend might curve, but it won’t break.

Device addiction: everyone’s too distracted to do much about it, but here’s a heads-up.

We recently wrote about the growing calls for warning labels on mobile devices (see Daily Insight: Digital Dopamine Concerns). This isn’t about worries of radio frequency exposure, although there have been some renewed reservations there as well (see Daily Insight: Radiation Warning). But there are more concerns about the effects of the digital umbilical cord that some researchers believe is strangling society.

In 2010, as part of our Predictions for 2011 and Beyond event, we said that mobile and Internet addiction would lead to calls for action. We said that connectivity compulsion would bring negative publicity for industry players including service providers, phone makers and app developers. Apprehensions would centre on the social development of so-called “screenagers”, but there’s more than enough guilt to spread across generations.

In July, we wrote about screen junkies (see Daily Insight: Screen Junkie Generations). Some recent studies show how mobile devices are becoming an integral part of reward and punishment in family settings. Tablets have replaced the television as a babysitter, and Internet-based content is the material of choice.

In China, Internet addiction is labelled a clinical disorder. Treatment centres are dotting the landscape, and the concept is spreading to other countries. It can be called many things: device dependency, screen junkie-ism, digital dopamine. But calls for a detox are getting louder.

There’s some goodwill to be gained here. Wearables and mobile apps like location-based augmented reality games could encourage more active behaviour. Combining mobility and motion could be a method of addressing potential regulation and overall backlash.

To learn more about our thoughts on the future direction of the industry, sign up for CCS Insight’s Predictions for 2016 and Beyond event on 18 November 2015.

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