The year 2013 doesn’t feel like the distant past, but in the still-brief history of mobile technology, it’s a benchmark: By 2013, more than 90% of Americans had cell-phone access. Just two years later, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center, more than two-thirds of all U.S. adults carried a smartphone.
Such critical scale has made mobile the present as well as the future. But now comes the hard part: navigating where this dynamic future might lead.
Geraldine Calpin, chief marketing officer of Hilton Worldwide, and Vijay Sondhi, senior vice president of innovation and strategic partnerships at Visa, know the volatility and the opportunity that mobile represents as well as anyone. Calpin is one of the leaders behind Hilton’s award-winning Hilton HHonors app, a tool that offers more than 55 million members the opportunity to use their phone to guide their entire Hilton stay. At Visa, Sondhi’s primary focus is on driving the company’s innovation agenda by cocreating solutions with major clients and partners at Visa’s state-of-the-art innovation centers throughout North America. The goal? Collaborative innovation that solves real business problems.
FastCo.Works sat down with Calpin and Sondhi for a peek at their road maps, as they plan the next phase of mobile development.
Let’s jump to the big question: What’s the future of mobile tech?
Calpin: When I think about the future of mobile, I always remind myself that it started with a telephone. Now, that phone has become a remote control to the world.
At Hilton, we enable this "remote control" to enhance your guest experience. When you use the Hilton HHonors app, you can select your room just like you would a seat in an airplane. You can also check in, open the door to your room without even stopping at the front desk, and request that an extra pillow or cold beer be brought to you. And you can receive notifications about special offers, like a spa treatment, through an interactive feature called Fun Finder. I think the future of mobile is about allowing your phone to do whatever you want or need.
The mobile space has developed so rapidly—communication merging with commerce, virtual reality, and even gaming—that it seems hard to anticipate what’s coming next. Were the implications of mobile tech on a company like Visa immediately clear to your team?
Sondhi: At first, it was scary. While inherently "mobile" in design, Visa’s origin was a plastic card that you used to make payments. There was a moment where we wondered if our brand might go away along with that piece of plastic.
But we quickly realized that mobile could be a better option for our services. With mobile, transactions are easier for the user—just tap your phone and make a payment. That actually makes the future of mobile rather exciting for us.
Between Android and Apple, there are now more than 4 million mobile apps, with new ones launching every day. Do you see signs that we’re reaching the point of overload?
Calpin: We control our lives on a screen that’s 10 centimeters long. We use it so much now, we rely on it, we’re addicted to it. That’s the root of some fatigue, yes.
Sondhi: It’s so true. But at the same time, we aren’t going to move backward. Our companies, Visa and Hilton, we’re service companies. That comes with a responsibility: It’s our job to apply tech so that life is simpler for the customers who engage with us.
Calpin: All companies must be obsessive about simplification. Now more than ever.
How do you decide what to change—and not change—when the technology is constantly evolving?
Calpin: When there’s a new piece of mobile tech gaining attention, we evaluate it against our guest’s journey: booking, check-in, the stay itself—and, crucially, how you’ll ideally feel during those parts of the experience. For example, once you’re in your room, we want you to feel relaxed. It’s easy now. Exhale. We want tech that can improve the guest experience and has the ability to scale.
Sondhi: Our decision-making process at Visa used to be based on deep market research and budget cycles. Now when we evaluate tech, we think of the customer first. Can this eliminate a pain point or create a moment of delight?
For instance, no one likes it when their credit card is denied when they’re traveling. It’s obviously a measure to prevent fraud, but it can be inconvenient. With mobile tech, we have access to geo-tracking. We can know that you’re away from home. So instead of declining your purchase, we can send you a message saying, "Welcome to the U.K.!" That’s a moment of delight.
What is your advice to fellow business leaders for succeeding in the next phase of the mobile evolution?
Sondhi: Rapid innovation requires rapid testing.
Calpin: I absolutely agree: Test and learn. The future of mobile won’t be hatched in a PowerPoint presentation. Platforms will come and go. Innovations will come and go. You must be thoughtful and customer-focused if you’re going to be successful at whatever happens next.
FastCo.Works is Fast Company’s content studio. This story was created with and commissioned by Hilton and Visa.