Know me, be me: why your smartphone will soon be smarter than you

Google Now traffic

Google Now traffic

You’ve probably already noticed the change. Perhaps your favourite travel app scans your emails for your flight details and monitors if there’s a delay that should concern you. Maybe your web browser now requires a username so it can sync what you’ve been Googling on your laptop to your tablet. Or perhaps you’re reliant on prompts from your phone suggesting you should hit the road if you want to make that meeting in rush hour traffic. Slowly but surely, your phone is learning where you go, who you talk to, what you like and what you get up to. Soon, it may even be smarter than you.

That’s the latest prediction from research house Gartner, which forecasts that by 2017, your smartphone will be taking over and self-managing areas of your life. It won’t be suddenly bestowed with the power of real intelligence, but by using all the data it gathers from your personal accounts, as well as the sensors on the phone and easily accessible information from the cloud, it will have the ability to act on your behalf.

Before it reaches that stage though, your phone will start assisting with more menial tasks and learning more about you. Gartner envisions this evolution in four steps — first your information will be synced across devices, then your gadgets will be more aware of your location and day-to-day routines, before understanding your interests and eventually learning how to act as you.

Gartner smartphones

The first two phases of cognizant computing are already in action — the rise of cloud-based services has allowed your mobile to sync on the go, always presenting the latest version of a document or recently viewed sites or locations on a map. The inclusion of sensors which monitor everything from your location to how they’re being held has helped apps like Google Now begin to understand things like when you’re home and when you’re at work. From there, smart devices and apps which make use of their functionality can begin to offer assistance.

In the beginning, it will be all about seemingly insignificant tasks — like comparing an appointment on your calendar with your current location and the traffic en route and notifying you that you could be late, or responding to low priority emails or setting a reminder to book your next regular check up at the doctor. From there, Gartner predicts your smartphone will begin to take a greater role in managing your life — if you let it.

Privacy and smart targeting

Of course, all of this relies on the fact that you’re willing to share information with myriad apps and allow them access to your location, schedule, search history and online profiles. While owning a phone that’s smart enough to give you information before you realise you need it sounds cool, it could also raise serious privacy issues if everything about you is being circulated on some unknown server in real-time. Gartner predicts that users will become more accustomed to sharing their information — even in the post-Snowden revelations era — as long as they gain enough value out of the exchange.

Some current attempts to learn more about individuals’ wants and habits have raised red flags though — take a look at Google, whose recent attempts to deeply integrate Google Now into Android are leading some to question the wisdom of the search giant knowing even more about you. Add in the fact that the trend for more customised, informed tech could see everything from your phone book to caller ID get a little bit smarter (and start sticking your name and photo on the screens of those you call), and you can see that while the trend may be useful, it can also be creepy.

More relevant, customised information is one of the upsides of smarter smartphones — and one which is set to make cognizant computing one of the strongest market forces affecting IT in the next two to five years, according to the research company. When your phone is contextually aware, it can offer you information it knows you might need exactly where you might need it — an amazing opportunity for apps and services looking to get you interested in a product or service.

Because everything from location-based discounts to well-thought out offers can be given to you on the go, the ecommerce opportunities of mobile will continue to grow, as increasingly personal and highly relevant purchases are suggested and can be paid for via mobile wallet or linked card. Of course, your phone won’t just go on a spending spree. As Carolina Milanesi, research vice president at Gartner, puts it, “it is about having the right rules and permissions in place set by the user so that only actions that are pre-approved will happen — rather than the smartphone making ‘rogue’ purchasing decisions.”



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