2008 has been a revolutionary year for the mobile industry. 2009 looks set to be equally exciting, albeit in a slightly more destructive way.
It was clear a year ago that the mobile industry was about to be shaken up by the rise of mobile Linux, which opened up the previously closed world of mobile operating systems and gave new entrants, such as Google, a foot in the door. With one handset widely available and many more expected in the first half of next year, Android has created a buzz and is being taken seriously.
However, a year ago the industry could not have predicted the severity of the recession in which it now finds itself.
Before even considering the technological advances that could appear in 2009, one has to take into account the financial state of the mobile industry. Major manufacturers such as Motorola and, to a lesser extent, Sony Ericsson, are arguably on the brink of disaster. Even Nokia, the market leader, has had to seriously downgrade its forecasts. None of this invites investment in new technologies that do not have a proven business case.
One casualty of the current financial climate is likely to be so-called 4G — either the long-term evolution (LTE) of 3G, or WiMax, depending on where you are in the world. Both are rip-out-and-replace successors to 3G and, while one or both will likely succeed in the long term, neither will find funding for any kind of premature success in 2009. Users want faster mobile-broadband speeds, but HSDPA is probably good enough for now — certainly to the extent that consumers are unlikely to pay a premium for using a new technology.
Another victim could well be near-field communications (NFC), the short-range wireless technology that is used in travel smartcards, access systems and some bank cards. The mobile industry is very keen to get NFC into handsets, so mobile phones can replace travelcards and debit cards, but doing so remains relatively expensive for manufacturers. A concerted industry push may drive down the cost and make NFC feasible for phones, but 2009 is unlikely to be the year in which to do it to any significant degree.
Paying by phone
One technology much more likely to push through into the mainstream consciousness during 2009 is mobile payments — buying train tickets and other items through the handset. The UK's rail industry recently agreed a new standard that will make it possible for barcode-based 'tickets' to be sent to most currently used mobiles. It is the exploitation of existing handsets' capabilities that makes such technology more viable for the coming year.
Some other technologies may also become more prevalent because they augment what is already in the handset. A prime example is the inbuilt-compass — once you have GPS in a wide variety of phones, as you now do, why not add direction to location? It has been done in countries such as Japan for a while, and 'western' devices may...