BARCELONA, Spain – For the past 25 years, Rich Miner has been at the center of developing a number of technologies that have had a substantial impact on our lives.
Most recently, that included being cofounder of Android, the company acquired by Google almost a decade ago that developed the operating system that now powers about 85 percent of all mobile gadgets sold. For the past five years, he’s also been a partner with Google Ventures. And along the way, he was a cofounder of Wildfire, the voice-based personal assistant.
All of this gives him an interesting depth and breadth of experience in terms of how mobile has changed the world, and what forces are continuing to shape the mobile computing revolution. I sat down with Miner this week at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona for a wide-ranging conversation.
Here are five things Miner believes are going to shape mobile computing in the coming years:
1. Payments: Miner firmly believes that mobile payments are a fundamental use case for smartphones and wearables going forward. But he says the mobile payment systems we’ve seen so far don’t go far enough in revolutionizing payments. He says things like Apple Pay fall short because they simply re-create the basic payment process, just substituting a smartphone for a credit card.
Miner says that’s why companies are still rolling out and experimenting with so many systems: Samsung with Samsung Pay announced this week; Google with its wallet and Android Pay API ; and PayPal acquiring Paydiant this week. But for any of these to really click with merchants and consumers, he said they need to offer far more value than just making a payment. There needs to be additional services like rewards, loyalty cards, and much, much more that are rolled into a singular system that enhances the relationship between merchants and customers.
2. Pen-based computing: Because everything old is new again. Miner says Samsung has had success with its Galaxy Note, and this week in Barcelona he’s seeing more gadgets that offer a digital pen or stylus of some kind. These kind of uses are great for meetings or just general note-taking, filling out forms, and taking tests. Particularly because handwriting recognition software is so robust now.
Silicon Valley went through a pen-based computing craze in the early ’90s. And then there was the Palm Pilot. Then Steve Jobs famously hated them. But, apparently, resistance is futile. Miner expects companies to start integrating them even more deeply into the hardware and software, increasing their usefulness. And speaking of businesses…
3. Enterprise: While businesses have been adopting mobile devices, Miner thinks they haven’t really even scratched the surface in terms of how fundamentally smartphones and tablets could reshape every aspect of business workflow. Instead, companies are grafting them onto their current workflows. Note to entrepreneurs everywhere: Miner thinks this is a shortcoming being ignored by startups. He believes there’s a gigantic opportunity for software and services that take all the information gathered by people’s smartphones, tablets, and wearables and use it to automate huge portions of a company’s workflow.
“These things know far more about the movements of your salesperson than that person knows from their own intuition,” Miner said. “All of that stuff — emails, calendar, that he was five minutes late to a meeting — should just flow automatically into a database.”
4. Ads: Another area that no one has completely cracked. Miner points out that a huge chunk of people’s attention has shifted to mobile devices, but only a tiny portion of advertising dollars have followed. Lack of cookies have made it tough for most advertising to be interesting and relevant on phones. Plus, things like banner ads are just duds when it comes to the mobile experience. He says one of his portfolio companies, Yieldmo, has the goal of inventing a new mobile advertising format every day. Yes, every day. Miner said that kind of experimentation is going to be needed to find the formats that convince advertisers to accelerate their spending on mobile.
5. Voice: Considering Miner was a Wildfire cofounder, perhaps this isn’t surprising. But Miner says the power of voice-activated services to control just about everything on your smartphone and many wearables is going to be an important force in reshaping people’s relationship to their gadgets. And in the coming years, as more beacons and sensors are deployed around people’s homes and businesses, and connected gadgets continue to expand, voice is going to become the default way that people interact and control all these devices.