The Most Important Technology of the 21st Century (so far)


One of the most important technology of all times is the car. The car was invented in the late 19th century but became affordable with Henry Ford’s disruptive mass production assembly line, producing the Model T. The car dramatically shaped the 20th century. The car meant freedom and individualism, a status symbol. It was the technology of the 20th century. As strange as it seems, now the car is losing its dominant role as every man’s dream and goal in life. It is being replaced by something much smaller and a thing you would never have guessed would rival a car: the smartphone. Strange? Bear with me. The smartphone is the most important technology of the 21st century – at least the beginning of it.

It’s a phone, but don’t think of it as a phone. It’s so much more. This is the device most people carry with them all the time and check it over 100 times per day. And this is not a device that goes far from its owner. Over 80 percent sleep with the phone within arms reach. Then there is statistic that I’m not sure what to make of, but it is reported that 62% of women check their phone during sex.

The smartphone is a powerful device. The primary reason the mobile phone is so important is that is it a communications device and that brings convenience and safety. Convenience since we can call other people for business and pleasure. Safety since we can use it to call our loved ones, and they can get to us. This give comfort. And safety and comfort is well worth the price.

It is also an information device. We can follow what is going on in the world. We read news, we browse the internet, we look up things. Bored at meetings we browse for news, waiting in line we read books. We get information about the weather, where to buy products we are interested in, and locate the next coffee house.

It is also a social device. We check upon our friends. We share with our friends. With social networks accessible on smartphones we know what are friends and family are doing and possibly where they are. An hour before writing this I just posted a beautiful picture from a nearby park on Instagram, and moments later, my daughter who was in Palermo, Sicily, looked at it and liked it. Also on Instagram I saw that my sister’s family was travelling back from Berlin. This small device makes the world smaller and brings people closer. Social has many benefits, for example being able to help a friend with their problems or get help, find friends that are nearby, and get advices and information from your friends.

It is a recommendation device. Bringing information and social together adds an new layer of functionality. We can use apps like Foursquare to give us information about spaces like restaurants, hotels, airports and whatever business is available. In a restaurants you get advice from prior guests, good or bad. I have used apps to look up WiFi passwords in airport lounges, courtesy of some helpful guests.

It is a location device. Lost in a city we bring up maps. We can get directions to get to places, and we can get information on the restaurants nearby. But there is more. This device knows where your are at any time – exactly where your are.

It’s a tracking device. Since the smartphone know where you are, it can be used to track your whereabout with fitness apps like Runkeeper. This allows for visualisation of data that will help you track your progress and share with friends. At the price of a free WiFi, architects and designers of spaces can track how people navigate though spaces. A store owner might get a visual graph showing how most customers move though the store and redesign to make the experience better (and to sell more).

It’s a health and wellness device. RunKeeper is just one example of a wellness app. There are thousands of health and wellness apps available. Health is going to be taken over by software and the mobile app is playing a huge role. We are seeing add-on sensors that can take samples, for example blood samples and upload data to the cloud.

It’a a multimedia device. Most smartphones have camera which provides value for lots of applications from scanning QR code to identifying wines using apps such are Vivino. The smartphone has managed to kill the low-end digital camera business since people don’t want a separate device for pictures. After all, they always have the smartphone.

It’s a remote control. The much talked about Internet of Things is in its early stages. We are entering times, when normal products that we have used and know are getting digital – watch, weight scales, thermostats and thermometers, cars, washing machines, locks – just to name the obvious things. “It connects to your smartphone” will be the line that describes products in the coming years.

The smartphone is also a shopping device, an item we carry that brings stuff to us. According to Financial Times, mobile sales in US increased by a 29.3% to account for one in five transactions.

Perhaps the most dramatic impact of the smartphone is how it changes people’s behaviour and has resulted in fundamental lifestyle changes. For example, with a smartphone I can use apps like Uber to request a ride. Anytime you need a ride just press the button and a car will be there. The app knows where you are and will contact the driver nearby. While you wait you type the address where you are going to. The smartphone is replacing the need to own a car. All you need is the access to the car service. The smartphone makes the experience effortless.

The smartphone has not only transformed the way we behave. It has also caused huge information spillage over into other industries. With all the sensors in a device like this, barometer, accelerometer and gyroscope,

That’s just the beginning. As an authentication device, with fingerprint sensors, the phone can tell your front door lock that you are home and your car will not only open its door but also adjust the temperature and adjust the seats, and even start. Imagine a world where it would be so strange if you sit in a car and the car does not start automatically. With my phone I can sit in my sofa, control the TV using it as a remote, I can play Youtube videos on my phone and have them display on my TV while monitoring the steak in the oven using iDevice’s cooking thermometer. I can even adjust the lights using my Hue lighting system. With my phone I access Spotify to control my Sonas speaker system. My CD collection is gone. It’s weird to think back on how we used CDs. Now is the era of the ownerless life style. You don’t need to own, you just need access. Either per request and usage such as Uber, or by a subscription model such as Spotify.

The mobile phone is the 21st century freedom. Whereas the car was every teenager’s dream some decades ago, now getting a mobile phone is the dream. And it gives freedom, and just as much identity and status as the car back then. Then if you need something? Well, there is a button on your phone, it’s just one click away.