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Mobile Communications November 2015 Viewpoints

Technology Analyst: Frederick C. Dopfel

Fixed-Mobile Workflow Improvements

Why is this topic significant?

Workflows that involve both full-featured computers and mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets have posed annoying difficulties for many users. Key stakeholders are experimenting with solutions to this problem, potentially enabling mobile devices to become much more important for productivity.

Description

All too often, power users encounter troubles when attempting to merge the results of work they perform on multiple devices—especially when one device is a desktop or laptop and another runs a mobile operating system. Google's Chrome to Phone pioneered fixed-to-mobile workflows by enabling users to send web pages from Chrome to Android devices, opening a relevant app automatically. However, users were unable to send work from their phones directly back to their PCs, and Google appears to have largely abandoned the project in favor of integrating some of its features into Google Now.

Apple's Handoff lets users connect fixed and mobile Apple products together to enable continuous workflows across devices in certain apps. For example, a user on an iMac can begin composing an email and then pick up an iPhone to continue writing after leaving home, or someone reading a web page on an iPad's Safari app could load the same page on an iMac. Two connected devices must be logged into the same iCloud account via the same Wi-Fi network and be in close proximity with Bluetooth radios turned on. Apple presumably uses a combination of these factors to authenticate and transfer data from one device to another. Using a similar method, Apple's Continuity feature allows users to answer iPhone calls and text messages on their iMacs and other Apple devices.

Samsung offers a competing system—Flow—that authenticates using a method similar to that of Apple, except Bluetooth is optional rather than required for Flow. Samsung's system currently allows users to transfer web pages, documents, MMS messages, and calls among various Samsung portable Android devices; the company promises to support PCs, Tizen-powered smartwatches, and smart TVs in the future. Flow also grants users the option to save items for later. For example, users may mark a file that needs work for editing at home and an interesting webpage for reading on their phone during their commute by train.

Implications

Fixed-mobile workflow systems differ in how users access data on their secondary device. Apple's Handoff "pulls" data from local devices for resuming: The user slides up from the bottom left of a lock screen to load content from the last used device. However, Google's Chrome to Phone and Samsung's Flow "push" data to other devices: Users must press a share button on their current device and specify which device to send their current workflow to.

Impacts/Disruptions

If stakeholders create a compelling system for users to work between PCs and mobile phones seamlessly on a single project or document, many users may begin to use their smartphones much more as productivity tools than simply as content-consumption devices. The change may be especially apparent when people are idly waiting for extended periods, such as on public transit. Use of phones for productivity rather than consumption may reduce data use, because work documents are generally smaller than video and audio files.

Scale of Impact

  • Low
  • Medium
  • High
The scale of impact for this topic is: Low to Medium

Time of Impact

  • Now
  • 5 Years
  • 10 Years
  • 15 Years
The time of impact for this topic is: Now to 5 Years

Opportunities in the following industry areas:

Mobile-productivity apps, mobile compatibility for legacy x86 applications, travel-size peripherals, productivity-enabling smartphone peripherals

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas:

Gleaning Habits from Carrier-Level Data

Why is this topic significant?

Developers and their partners learn much about users by analyzing smartphone location and movement information. New research shows that metadata available to wireless-service providers can provide substantial information about individuals, regardless of whether they own smartphones or feature phones.

Description

Web-service providers have focused much on learning about individuals by analyzing smartphone data. For example, Google uses GPS-location histories to identify users' homes, workplaces, and daily routines. However, analysts can glean much information from data available to wireless-service providers and their partners, rather than from the phones themselves. Service providers can glean insights about users from such data, regardless of the type of phones in use.

A team of researchers from Harvard; MIT; the University of California, Davis; and the University of Pittsburgh noticed that cell-phone-use patterns changed when people lost their jobs. Laid-off people receive fewer incoming calls, make fewer outgoing calls, and communicate with different groups of people. The researchers indicate that by analyzing call history, they could detect if a worker had recently suffered a layoff. Similar processes may enable real-time tracking of an economy—information impossible to attain by means of current methods. However, the researchers caution that their method should complement, not replace, current systems to measure the health of an economy.

David Bjorkegren, an economist at Brown University, believes that cellular data can help determine creditworthiness. Using a data set from banks in the Caribbean, Bjorkegren found that mobile-phone-use patterns in the three months preceding a loan—including phone-balance-refilling activities, number of calls, and number of people called—can accurately predict how likely a person is to default on a loan. Bjorkegren claims that using his screening method, banks may avoid 43% of defaults while still making 75% of loans and that his algorithm approaches the accuracy of credit reports in the United States. These claims are somewhat fantastic—but for some stakeholders, having some data is better than having none at all.

Implications

Using data aggregated by cellular carriers rather than from the phones themselves presents a number of advantages for data analysts. No written software is necessary to run on disparate smartphone and feature-phone models, no direct consent is necessary from each user in the study (therefore avoiding participation biases), and all data come from a few massive databases, rather than requiring data scientists to pull data from thousands or millions of phones.

Impacts/Disruptions

Most people in industry are already aware of how impactful big-data analysis can be in understanding an environment and optimizing efficiency. Use of service-provider data sets is interesting because the insights from the data are not hard facts but inferences: The data cannot say positively that a worker is fired, but the data allow an educated guess. Therefore, these data are likely to serve only when necessary: when fast access to estimates of an economy's strength is the goal or when no better data about a user's financial history are available.

Scale of Impact

  • Low
  • Medium
  • High
The scale of impact for this topic is: Medium

Time of Impact

  • Now
  • 5 Years
  • 10 Years
  • 15 Years
The time of impact for this topic is: Now to 5 Years

Opportunities in the following industry areas:

Big-data analysis, banking, insurance, public policy

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas: