Is it time to begin thinking beyond mobile and the ‘screen era’?

If we’re honest, it’s taken the industry some time to get to grips with mobile, and the worry is that we’ve come to it too late. From a brand and marketer perspective it has proved a confusing space, and this is despite the fact that we reached mobile tipping point a few years ago. In 2011, sales of smartphones and tablets surpassed PC sales. Mobile surpassed desktop usage back in 2014 and mobile digital media time in the US is now significantly higher at 51% compared to desktop at 42%. Last year, Google confirmed what as an industry we’d been anticipating for some time, that mobile search queries had overtaken desktop search.

But now the industry faces a new challenge, and it’s big. The way in which we interact with and control digital devices is changing much faster than many of us realise, and we’re on the brink of another technological revolution which could make mobile a thing of the past. But marketers simply aren’t ready for it, and currently have little understanding of how this will impact digital marketing.

The changes are happening at a rapid pace, and according to Ericsson’s most recent ConsumerLab report which interviewed more than 100,000 people in 40 countries around the world, more than half of respondents believe smartphones will be obsolete within the next five years. That’s a startling prediction, bearing in mind smartphones only really came of age 10 years ago.

The report explains that “constantly having a screen in the palm of your hand is not always a practical solution. After 60 years in the screen age, one in two smartphone users now thinks that smartphones will be a thing of the past, and that this will happen in just five years. Battery capacity is a real issue for smartphone users and the size of devices is literally getting out of hand.”

But what’s more striking from a digital marketing perspective is that Ericsson believes this will mark the end of the ‘screen era’ as we know it. This has huge implications for marketers, because almost all of today’s media are dependent in some way upon screens, and this could require a fundamental shift in mindset and approach. From digital out of home (DOOH) advertising, to programmatic display, through to native advertising, email marketing, mobile apps and video…these are all currently dependent on screen-based or interface viewing.


What will the ‘screen era’ be replaced with?

It’s been almost impossible to miss the buzz around AI (Artificial Intelligence) this year. It’s likely this technology will pave the way towards a variety of different interfaces in the near future, some of which we’re using already.

According to the Ericsson study, 85% of smartphone users think wearable electronic assistants will be commonplace within five years. Additionally, one in two believes they will be able to talk to household appliances, in a natural and human way. AI will make this way of interacting with objects and surroundings possible, and this will significantly reduce our reliance on or need for screen-based technology.

AI is set to take over many common activities such as searching for information on the web, listening to music and news reports, booking cinema tickets or a restaurant, etc. But the scope for innovation is limitless, and as Figure 3 from the Ericsson report below illustrates, 44% believe using AI for teaching would be a good thing, and 35% would like to use AI for friendship.


Voice assistance and voice search have rapidly risen in popularity this year. Towards the end of last year Google released a study of 1,400 Americans looking at their use of voice search. It found that 55% of teens and 41% of adults surveyed used voice search, and more than once a day; there’s little doubt these figures have increased already.

Speaking recently at SMX West, Behshad Behzadi, director of conversational search at Google, said he believed the future of search was “an ultimate mobile assistant that helps you with your daily life so you can focus on the things that matter”.


The impact of Virtual Reality (VR)

Without screens, how can the growth of visual information and video, which has become so critical to marketing, continue? The simple answer is VR technology, which has made much headway this year already. As capabilities mature, the way in which we interact with visual information will evolve and become more immersed in the physical world around us.

Within the Ericsson study mentioned above, respondents were asked to express their interest in a variety of potential VR services. As Figure 4 below from the report shows, enthusiasm was expressed for the majority of suggestions, and in particular, shopping. Half of the smartphone users surveyed showed preference for a 3D selfie that can be used as an avatar to try on clothes online, and 64 percent would like the ability to see an item’s actual size and form when shopping online.


But this is just the beginning. In the not too distant future, we’ll see advances in thought control technology, to the point where it enters the home. Scenes within Steven Spielberg’s futuristic movie Minority Report could soon become a reality, where we will have the ability to control information and ads, for example, appearing visually in the air around us, simply through our thinking.

So much of today’s marketing is based around screens, and although it’s hard to believe, these technology predictions are no longer as far off as we once thought. The interface that marketers use to engage consumers is on the brink of a complete transformation, and the methods used to communicate with them will drastically change. 2017 could be a defining year within this space, and now’s the time to begin taking notice.

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