To help celebrate Vodafone Social's third birthday, Microsoft's Dave Coplin is taking over for the day to explain how your future smartphone and computer might be one and the same...

Do not adjust your set. To help celebrate Vodafone Social’s third birthday, we’ve enlisted the help of some of our friends in some of the world’s biggest mobile companies to write guest blogs about mobile today, tomorrow, and in the years to come.

Today it’s Microsoft’s time to shine, so we’re handing over to Dave Coplin, Microsoft’s Chief Envisioning Officer – the man who’s seen the future of mobile…


Dave Coplin | Chief Envisioning Officer, Microsoft

CEPIC CONGRESS LONDON 2012, Dave CoplinAs ‘Chief Envisioning Officer’, I’ve got a bit of a comedy job title. We invented the term, and it’s deliberately a bit tongue in cheek (the punchline being that I told my mum I’d be CEO of Microsoft and this is the only way I could pull it off), but what it basically means is that my role is to think about the future. And it’s more about the future of humans than it is about the future of technology.

So that’s not just gadgets and shiny things; I spend a lot of time thinking about how human beings are going to live, work and play. Why? Because I think that if we understand that, we can be a lot more mindful about the kind of technology we’re all going to need.

So what will we need? To figure that out, we need to understand about the massive changes in mobile that have taken place over the past few years. And the main one has to be mobile internet with 3G, the advent of that was the point at which our devices stopped being just phones.

We suddenly had to develop a broader philosophy around what the word ‘mobile’ really means.

Think of it like this: we started out thinking of our mobiles as telephones, and then in the late 90s there was a phase where they were phones that we could do a bit of email on, but ultimately the destination for all our mobile devices is as a window into a brand new, digital world. The whole point in mobile now, in 2015, is to help you easily access the best the digital world has to offer, and use it to improve your real world experience – whether that’s finding the address of a restaurant, or getting a map to where you’re going, or checking always changing air fares… All of that stuff is using the device as a window into that world.

“We want to take Cortana much further in an ambient intelligence sense. And that’s really going to be a big deal…

And that’s pretty cool. But what’s more, universal and affordable mobile internet has enabled that digital world to flourish, and in turn that’s lead us into the second big change: using context to deliver proactive services. And, for you Windows fans out there, I’m really talking about Cortana here. Having something that’s working on your behalf to understand your location, the places you’ve been and the stuff you’ve done to deliver new things that add value to you is pretty fantastic.

And that’s just going to get bigger and broader.

Today, Cortana knows my location and that of my next meeting, and if they’re geographically separated she’ll start to monitor the traffic alerting me to leave earlier if it’s building up. That’s one use case, but we want to take Cortana much further in an ambient intelligence sense. And that’s really going to be a big deal: companion services being much more than just companions. They’ll start to be these majorly important tools that really help us get through the tasks we’ve got in front of us each day.

With me so far? Let’s recap before we shoot forwards: Universal, internet access on the move coupled with voice services which are relevant to location, time and the user’s needs have been driving the biggest changes in mobile over the last few years. They’ve got us to where we are now. But what comes next?

What if my mobile becomes my computer?

Now that we’ve covered off a bit about where we are and where we’re going in the short term, it’s time for the really juicy stuff: the next few years? And in a decade? What will our mobile phones look like? What will they be able to do?

Out of a number of really interesting possibilities here’s my favourite:

If I think about the power I have in my mobile device today, it’s probably about as powerful as the device that was actually on my desk only five years ago. So what if, in the near future, my mobile becomes my computer? Then what I’d have in my office would be a monitor with wireless display technology and some wireless means of interaction like voice, keyboard and mouse. I’d just stick my phone on a charge pad and then I’d be away, working on what is essentially a full PC.

We have this concept called ‘adaptive mobility’, which is basically adapting the experience of what you’re doing to suit the device and the context in which you’re using it. In other words, I can go from a 27-inch monitor – where I’m doing my spreadsheet with all the power of Excel – to my mobile phone with that same Excel spreadsheet but a different level of functionality, and presented to me in a way that’s appropriate for that device. But it’ll still feel like I’m in Excel.

dave coplin

The truly interesting thing is that we’re not far away from that kind of world. I’d say that in 3-5 years we’ll be in a place where phones and monitors have the capability to connect to each other wirelessly, and where they’re pervasive and cheap enough that people have got them in their homes and offices.

The bit I’m really looking forward to? Well, it’s bit further out from that. In 5-10 years we’ll be in a place where I can walk into my office and it’ll actually be my whole desk that’s the display. Remember the old draftsman drawing boards? Imagine a desk that’s like that, but instead of a large panel of wood, the whole thing could be an interactive surface capable of having things displayed on it. Picture it: as you walk in you put your phone down on the surface of your desk, the phone automatically begins charging and the display comes to life with all of the information and all of the things I’m working on, along with the ability to do voice and video and all that other computer stuff we do now.

That’s the sort of technology future that we’re actively working towards.

And in fact you can see that kind of world in action right now. Every few years we do a ‘productivity vision’ video, which isn’t so much a look at the products we’re making but more an overview of the design principles informing our work. And our latest video, which you can watch below, illustrates this world where our mobile devices are increasingly contextual and connected:



That future is coming; it just relies on the infrastructure being ready and available. I want to be able to walk into my nearest coffee shop and have that kind of docking technology available and built into the table, waiting for me and my phone. But we’ll get there soon enough. You just wait.

Looking forwards… For more on Microsoft, check out our talk with James Guion about OneDrive and the future of what the cloud can do for Microsoft.