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The IT revolution’s third wave

The IT revolution’s third wave

| Text: Björn Lindahl, Photo: Cata Portin

The development of smartphones is changing many people’s lives. Yet universal online access is only one part of the new IT revolution which will also have a big impact on working life. Smartphones and tablets became really powerful tools when Apple allowed anyone to develop the apps these devices run.

Anyone can develop a new app - the small computer program which links your mobile to larger IT systems - and sell it or give it away through Apple’s App Store. Other mobile producers have followed suit with similar accessibility to the source application which is needed to make the apps work.

The app market has exploded because downloading one is fast and the development costs can be divided between many which means costs are kept very low. Last year 10 billion apps were downloaded world-wide according to analyst company Gartner. This year the number is expected to jump to 30 billion. in 2015 the number of downloaded apps is expected to reach 50 billion. The 2011 app market was worth around 100 billion kronor (€11bn).

Tailor-made solutions

Another crucial factor is that smartphones and tablets automatically know where the user is. This makes it possible to tailor information to suit the user. One example is ads in digital media:

“We can develop systems where we give an ice cream producer the opportunity to offer discounts in Gotland if the sun is shining there, but not in Stockholm if it rains there,” says Raoul Grünthal, CEO of media company Schibsted Sweden.

For simple tasks like finding information on the internet or checking email it is now often faster and simpler to use a smartphone. Traditional computers are being used less as a result. In Sweden the use of home computers has fallen by 20 percent since 2008. 

When computers were introduced in the 1960s they were so large and expensive that only major companies could afford them. Many people had to share one computer. With the development of personal computers towards the end of the 1970s, everyone could have their own computer at work and at home. It was no longer a given that the computer you worked on belonged to your employer. 

Many companies and businesses put a lot of effort into having an IT structure where workers use the same type of program. Smartphones and tablets have made computers even more private. Employees take their work to bed with them and use smartphones and tablets in their own unique ways. Louise Barkhuus is a researcher with a doctorate on human/machine interaction. She used to work for UC San Diego in the USA, but now works in Stockholm at Mobile Life Center. When she began studying how people used these new tools it struck her how everyone was doing it in their own particular way.

Everyone uses the mobile differently

“Smartphones are being used in different ways, and users mix and change existing functions to create their own mix,” she points out in an article in the journal Personal and Ubiquitous Computing.

‘Ubiquitous Computing’ is often abbreviated to Ubicomp and looks at how IT is being integrated into everyday objects and how it affects people. Other words for Ubicomp include ‘IT in everything‘ or ‘IT toasters’. 

The great change for working life is not whether you use a smartphone or tablet to do your job or keep in touch with work. The big change is how a company’s services will be affected by the fact that nearly everyone is carrying a computer wherever they are. 

To take a concrete example:

To run a municipal parking company you have so far had to use parking attendants who make sure payment machines work and that those who haven’t paid get fined. But Gothenburg municipality has developed a free app called Parkering Göteborg. It shows free parking spaces, how to get there, how much it will cost an hour and which cards you can use to pay. 

“In some cases we can even tell you how many free spaces there are. This is something we will be developing further. We always look for good solutions which make things easier for our customers, says Maria Stenström, managing director at Gothenburg City parking.

And this is not only to help car owners:

“Research shows a lot of inner-city traffic is made up of people driving around looking for a place to park. We can help reduce that traffic.”

Some US statistics show 30 percent of traffic in big cities are cars hunting for parking spaces. 

There’s a plethora of parking-related apps. ‘The Parking Meter’ is a digital parking metre which alerts the user of when time is about to run out. The app allows you to note where you left your car or take a picture of it. GPS coordinates will also show you where the car was left and this can link up to Google Maps which makes it easy to find the car if you are in an unfamiliar place. 

The Swedish app ‘Jaga Lisa’ [‘Hunt Lisa’] takes things one step further. It was developed by people with a strained relationship to parking attendants, and allows drivers to warn other drivers if they see one. Anyone who has the app and is nearer than 200 metres will get a warning on their mobile.

Combining different functions

All this happens through by easily combining various functions which are already built into the smartphone. 

But the technology doesn’t stop there. There are already systems which allow people to top up a parking metre without leaving their cars. Each parking metre has its own mobile telephone and number. The machine calls your phone and asks whether you want to extend your time. Payment is made, of course, through the smartphone. 

Apps allows companies and organisations to tailor services in ways never before possible. And the user can to a large extent decide where, when and how he or she wants the service to be used. 

The third IT revolution is changing the lives of both companies and their employees and those of the end users. In some cases it might be more cosmetic changes, in other cases whole professions will become obsolete and companies or organisations will change dramatically.


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