What Will Mobile Messaging Look Like In 20 Years?

We asked futurist Dr Ian Pearson to talk about how mobile messaging will evolve in the next two decades.

Dr Pearson (see the foot of this post for his full bio) is particularly well positioned to do this. In October 1991, he came up with the idea of text messaging – using the keypads of landline phones.

Unfortunately, his employer at the time didn’t believe the idea of sending text messages along phone lines would take off!

Here’s what Dr Pearson thinks the future of messaging looks like.

The era of digital jewellery

I’ve been saying for years that mobile phones would be considered old fashioned by 2025. But I’m revising that prediction slightly, to 2030. By then I’d expect most mobile phones to have vanished. Instead people will be using bits of digital jewellery to communicate.

Of course we already have wearables like watches and broaches which are good for basic tasks that don’t need a big screen. But augmented reality will give digital jewellery the functionality we get from mobile phones. So we’ll have AR-powered jewellery that work in conjunction with AR glasses – maybe contact lenses – and no physical screen at all.

People will use that combination to do everything they’d do today on a mobile phone handset, including sending mobile messages.

Typing out messages

Mobile phones and physical keyboards may not be around for long, but I expect text messaging to be here in 20 years. For those of us that don’t want to use our voice to send messages, our fingers can be tracked, and we can type out messages on virtual keyboards on our hands, thighs, any surface available – or in mid air.

It’s important to note that reading and writing will endure for long into the future. The written word is efficient, memorable, and easy to refer back to. There will always be personal and business communications where precision, clarity and a written record is important.

Some of us might prefer to dictate messages, some of us might prefer to virtually type them. But the end product will be a text message that’s totally unambiguous.

AR messaging

Alongside reading and writing, many different types of communication will be used. We can already send audio, videos, gifs and animated emojis via mobile messaging. These types of “richer’ communication will become far more prevalent – especially as 5G gives us more bandwidth.

Very soon, I also expect to see a form of instant voice messaging and communication take off, so people who are close can always stay connected in a voice channel. When one talks, the other can listen. So imagine Jenny is using augmented reality to try on a dress. She says to Amy – hey what do you think of this? Amy can immediately see an image of Jenny in the dress and can comment.

Over the next decade or so, the next evolution of messages might look like AI-generated avatars and 3D projections. You can think of the classic Princess Leia projection in the first Star Wars movie. Of course consumers won’t need video skills or editing skills, artificial intelligence-powered apps will simply assemble their message instantly into an avatar. These AR communications will play a big role in business too – with brands themselves communicating via avatars.

By 2040, I expect that the tech will be readily available to record and replay sensations with each other. For example, the warm breeze from the beach when we’re on holiday or the smell of freshly baked bread. This could be achieved via tiny implants connected to our nerves. We’ll have technology that codifies and recreates those experiences from person-to-person. Then they can be shared over mobile messaging channels.

Consumers want technology-enabled communication to rival real-life communication – instant multi-media experiences that engage all the senses. A lot of this requires bandwidth, and 5G’s a big step towards delivering that.

The channel battle

SMS has been enduringly popular because of the traditional messaging inbox, which gives you instant access to messages in one place. It’s immediate and frictionless. Consumers will always favour simplicity and communication without barriers. They don’t care about the underlying technology or network, they just want a frictionless experience.

Channels are subject to whim, fashion and disruption. Facebook’s cool this year, WhatsApp next, then something new can usurp them all.

In mobile messaging’s case, SMS might be surpassed or absorbed into other channels, but consumers will still want a simple interface through which they can communicate.

AI in business

Companies already heavily rely on AI systems to communicate with customers. They use natural language processing to understand messages from people, to create actions on the back of them, and to send suitable replies. This is clearly going to become more prevalent as AI capabilities improve.

AI will continue to transform customer service over the next few years. But we’ll see it augment customer service – often via mobile messaging – rather than totally take over. But for the foreseeable future, humans will provide emotional connection in crucial situations.

Over the next five years, AI will become instrumental in understanding which channels customers want to communicate with businesses on and routing the conversation accordingly, in real-time.

Machine to machine

Over the next 10 years, I see a huge increase in messaging between machines without intermediary human input. That might look like a factory machine exchanging messages with a repairs system to warn that a component is wearing out and a breakdown is imminent. It could be a weather sensor messaging a forecasting system.

I see mobile messaging playing a pivotal role in the Internet of Things. In our day-to-day personal lives, this might look like our car messaging Alexa or Siri or Google that we’re five miles from home, and the home switching our kettle on.

The economics of messaging

It’s important to note that, whether we’re talking about text, voice, video, augmented reality, virtual reality or some format that’s not been invented yet, messages are data.

That means mobile phone operators and mobile messaging solution providers are data-transfer facilitators. So a big part of the puzzle for them is how fast, reliably and securely they transfer data from A to B, to deliver the best communication experience for customers.

Companies that facilitate messaging today could continue for decades to come, delivering a bigger variety of message types to the text, audio and video messages of today. It’ll come down to who has the processes, experience, expertise, network, relationships – a multitude of factors – to offer the best customer experiences, across multiple channels. It’s about who manages to keep businesses and consumers happy.

Bio – Dr Ian Pearson

Dr Ian Pearson has been a futurologist for three decades – 15 of them at communications giant British Telecom. He’s been involved in more than 1850 inventions including text messaging, the active contact lens, and a number of inventions in transport and space travel. He’s written eight books and has made over 850 TV and radio appearances across the world. He’s a Chartered Fellow of the British Computer Society and a Fellow of the World Academy of Art and Science and the World Innovation Foundation.

Feb 3rd, 2020
5 min read