How smartphones will change the trade industry

The smart phone is going to change your life. the following articles helps explain why that is the case and looks at the impact on professional installer’s business lives.

In 1984 the first mobile phone was introduced by Motorola in the USA and by 1986 they had appeared on the streets of the UK. Everybody thought these stupid devices were expensive and silly toys. They were thought to only be used by “Yuppies”. That’s Young Upwardly Mobile Professionals in case you wondered. Restaurants were generally applauded for banning their use. I don’t have any figures but I am guessing that installers were as cynical about them as anyone else.

Roll forward to today and I doubt if anyone running a trade business doesn’t carry a mobile phone. The naysayers have either retired or bowed to the inevitable.

The interesting fact is that mobile phone penetration, ten years after the mobile was introduced, was only 7% of the UK population. That didn’t prevent this rising to 100% just ten years later. By then, more people had two mobiles than none.

Every time new technology arrives it gets poo-pooed. Of course, sometimes that’s correct. The square steering wheel on the Allegro from the ill-fated British Leyland Austin brand never caught on. Certainly the Sinclair C5 was a failure, although interestingly the problem was more about the timing of electric cars than the principle.

It’s actually pretty easy to predict what technology is going to stick and what isn’t. Early sales can be based on novelty value and early adopters always like something new. That can drive initial sales. But novelty quickly wears off. If after a year or two the first users are still using the product and sales are growing steadily, you can be sure the new thing is here to stay.

The long term impact of technology

The long term impact of technology is phenomenal and drives social change. A few hundred years ago 98% of us worked on the land and lived in villages. It’s technology that has turned that upside down. By codifying knowledge in books and mass producing this knowledge using the printing press, the scientific revolution was able to begin. The car has changed the shape of cities and the habits of shopping. New medicines have revolutionised health care and on average we live much longer than our forebears. Technology has created killing machines that work on an industrial scale. That’s why our parents or grand-parents lived through wars where tens of millions died.

However, in each case where these big developments took place, it took a long time before the full impact on human behaviour was seen. Change takes time and follows on after the initial adoption of the technology. Nobody predicted hyper-markets when the car was invented. Nobody predicted the atom bomb when science started advancing. Nobody predicted mass international tourism when the first ever aeroplane took off at Kitty Hawk.

The new mobile revolution

Smartphone users worldwide have now reached three and a half billion which is half the entire world’s population. In the developed world, smartphone usage has jumped from an average of 30 minutes per day just three years ago to over three hours per day now.

The smartphone has the power of the most powerful computer in the world from a few years ago.

It is connected to all of the world’s knowledge. It can be carried in your pocket. Virtually everyone has one. Those that don’t, soon will.

We are only a handful of years into this revolution and the impact has barely begun. We literally cannot imagine the full impact that this will have. However, the fact that it is the fastest adopted mass-market technology in the world’s history does give us a clue.

The impact on the trades

Some of the applications of smartphones that are likely to impact installers are as follows:

1. Voice control. You may have already seen the Amazon Echo advertised on TV. I have one in my home. I can already ask for the local weather forecast, listen to any radio station, set a timer, get the results for my team and switch on the lights all with voice commands. It really is smart, it didn’t cost much and was easy to set up, using my smartphone.

2. The connected home. It’s not just my lights that are under remote control. Everything electrical will be connected in the end. I can already answer my door from anywhere as I watch a video feed of the visitor on my smartphone. The heating can be controlled and garage doors opened. You name it and it’s becoming connected and controllable from my smartphone.

3. Augmented reality. Already a company has an app that when you point the camera in a room or at a scene in the open, identifies most of the things in the photograph with text appearing next to them telling you what they are. I saw a demonstration of this a couple of weeks ago. Applying this technology to the trade, when I hold up my smartphone in front of a consumer unit or boiler, it is likely it will be able to recognise it. When I describe the symptoms of the problem, it will provide diagnostics. I will be able to solve the problems, however rare the system is.

The end of paperwork

While the long-term picture may still be a bit fuzzy, the impact on administration and paperwork for trade companies is already clear. Paperwork can be made hugely less of a burden using new technology. My company Powered Now has an app that runs on a smartphone (and Mac, PC and tablet) that helps with paperwork and of course we have competitors that do the same. When we are presenting our product, we tell people there are four benefits:

* they can invoice from anywhere

* they can get their evenings back

* they can grow their business

* they can manage their team

I will try to illustrate how this works by asking the following questions:

* Why would ever want to write out or type a customer address when you can look it up from the postcode or company name with much less effort?

* Why would you ever want to record or key in an email address or phone number if it’s already on your smartphone?

* Why would you ever want to write out or enter anything you have entered before?

* Why would you want to post things when you can email them faster and with much less effort?

* Don’t you want to know when your prospect has opened your email and what they thought of it?

* Why wouldn’t you want highly professional looking quotes when it’s easier to do them that way?

* Don’t you want to know where exactly your staff are during the working day?

Thinking about these questions gives you a small taste of what is possible with a smartphone based computer system for running your business. Even with what we have today, business owners using our system save an average of nearly three hours a week. Of course, there’s much more that will follow and it’s quite hard to forecast the full eventual impact.

So what does it mean?

Paperwork is the bane of every trade company’s life and especially when they are smaller and can’t afford a dedicated admin person. The smartphone revolution has the potential to ease that burden. That’s good news.

The lesson from the original mobile revolution is that this is all inevitably going to happen. It just takes a bit of time. Beyond that the smartphone revolution is already changing society and the election of President Trump may be the most obvious symptom, driven by social media fuelled by smartphones. You probably see that as negative but either way let’s hope that the best is yet to come.

Emma Dyer