What will be the hot technology over the next few years? While no one can say for certain, it’s not difficult to make a case for smartphones and mobile devices.

Consider these numbers: In the fourth quarter of 2011 alone, according to industry observers, 157.8 million smartphones flew off store shelves worldwide, bringing the total for the year to 491.4 million units. AverageU.S.smartphone ownership is at 41.8 percent of mobile subscribers, or 98 million people.

Industry reports indicate smartphone sales are expected to hit 1.5 billion units globally in 2016. Over the next five years, sales will see a 30 percent compound annual growth rate. By 2016, these devices are reportedly set to make up about two-thirds of all mobile phone sales. If you compare this with the number of PCs sold this year, which stood at 350 million units, smartphones are clearly going to be the gadget of choice for customers accessing the Internet.

Smartphones and mobile devices have forever changed the way we communicate. We’re now permanently connected—wherever we go. Work, family, friends, schedules, and finances are all instantly available. And while there are obvious downsides, we still expect and demand immediacy in almost everything.

Unlike cell phones of the past 20 years, smartphones provide a richer user experience on many levels:

  • A sophisticated camera is always available to take, send, post, and store thousands of pictures.
  • The GPS capability always “knows” where you are and can guide you to places such as restaurants and shopping venues.
  • Apps with Internet connections provide instant connectivity to your bank, insurance company, airline, department store, social network, and most accounts with online access.
  • Your entire music collection is always with you.
  • And yes, your mobile device is even good for phone calls, texts, and email.

 Paperless Insurance 

As a macro trend, mobile technology is increasingly facilitating customer self-service. Consumers are demanding instant access to services and information, and the use of paper and traditional mail services continues to decline.

For example, pending legislation in several states would permit drivers to use their smartphone apps to show their insurance ID card virtually. These states include Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Maryland, and Mississippi as of first-quarter 2012. This trend may continue as more and more states bring similar bills to the floor of the legislature. The new era of paperless insurance documentation is already here and gaining ground as more insurers commit resources to mobile app development as a cost-saving initiative. As mobile apps provide more options for policyholders, insurers can realize savings on printing and postage.

Both mobile technology and social media have altered the way recent generations think about privacy and sharing information. Should your mobile device allow you to connect to other policyholders who live nearby when you have the same agent or insurance company? Could such a network support ride sharing or the pooling of certain services? While most people rely heavily on their cars, could the combination of rising fuel costs and the emergence of technology-based services change the way people think about transportation options? Commercial ride-sharing companies have already been launched in many urban markets.