TechCrunch Disrupt: The Future of Mobile Is Back to Basics (and Location)

Today at TechCrunch Disrupt, Mike Arrington led a panel on future mobile technologies, including Google’s Vic Gundotra, Facebook’s Chris Cox, and Foursquare founder Dennis Crowley.

One of the top moments was the panel’s answer to the question of what the mobile phone of the future will look like — or at least the features they’re most looking forward to. Their admittedly non-sexy but practical answers went mostly back to basics.

Charging Forward

Dennis Crowley sees battery life as a gating factor to innovation: better web enabled phones kill batteries. Indeed, passive location tracking seen on many location based services is known to be a big battery drain — supportive of Foursquare’s active check-in model.

Chris Cox meanwhile wants to see better voice search, a growing area of innovation we’ve been doing our best to track. This is one piece of his broader desire to see mobile devices that are more intuitive and intelligent, minimizing the finger tapping inherited from the desktop GUIs.

“If I can talk to [my phone], I never have to type again,” he says. “Now I’m opening apps and typing. We’re wasting a lot of time getting to the ‘thing’, where the phone should just know where we are and what we want.”

A key component of this of course is location, where Foursquare is solely playing, where Google is increasingly playing, and where everyone knows Facebook will soon be playing. But who will be the winner of location, Arrington asks? None of the companies on stage claimed to be that winner.

“[Foursquare] is a winner right now, but it’s not going to be a space where there is one winner and lots of losers,” says Cox. “It will be an important piece of context across a number of products.”

Category Killer?

As this evolution continues, Crowley echoes some of our past analysis that more innovation is necessary to boost the user “value exchange” as check-ins become more commoditized. This includes lots of “post-check in” features increasingly flooding Foursquare like nearby specials.

It also includes more game mechanics at the heart of the service which it will develop by experimenting. Currently it sees a wide distribution of user value across its features (badges, mayorships and leaderboards). As for the elephant in the room, Facebook continues to hint at its own experimentation and integration of location annotation.

“We don’t know exactly what we are going to do yet, but there are tens of millions of times a day when our uses are communicating what is going on,” said Cox.  “Generally, this has a location associated with it.”

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