Apps are changing the way we move

Hamish Vallabh
By Hamish Vallabh under Insights 11 August 2016

Mobility. It isn’t just another tech buzzword. It’s something that genuinely affects all of us, every day. In its essence, mobility is the ability to move. It’s a topic that really excites us because mobility is more than a device - it’s an expectation. It’s changing every aspect of our lives - from the way we work, to how we communicate, access services, and even the way we move around.

With that in mind, it’s this idea of how mobility is transforming our physical movement that’s the focus for this post. Mobility is creating a world where we no longer need to rely on our own cars to get from A to B - increasingly, and especially for those of us in urban environments, we rely on the apps on our smartphones to do that. As these supercomputers in our pockets become the essential lens through which we experience this new era of mobility, three interesting dynamics are playing out, which we’ll explore in more detail below:

1. Apps are converting transportation into a service.

2. Apps are enabling seamless multimodal travel.

3. Apps are unbundling the jobs of the car.

► Apps are converting transportation into a service.

As digital technology becomes increasingly intertwined with our physical world, society is gravitating towards new consumption models based on access to services rather than ownership of assets. Car, ride and bike sharing apps have entered the market, driving the growth of an entirely new transportation paradigm. The job of getting from one point to another is increasingly being consumed as a service enabled by technology, rather than by expensive ‘hardware’ (like your car) that needs to be bought, owned and maintained. This actually echoes changes in the music industry, where people are moving away from buying individual songs or albums online or off, and are instead choosing to access music on demand from whichever device is within reach. 

Like so many others, the transportation industry, too, is becoming increasingly ‘atomised’ as new services enter the market. These allow us to choose between a range of options depending on our individual needs and requirements. Coupled with flexible payment models (i.e. pay-as-you-use, subscriptions) and on-demand accessibility, these services aggressively challenge the economic benefits and convenience of things like car ownership, for example. Take a large city like London: it often doesn’t make sense to buy a car that will probably spend most of its time parked, unused and depreciating. For those who don’t need a car all of the time, it’s usually more convenient and efficient to pull out their smartphone and order an Uber, rent a city bike, or hire a shared vehicle and only pay for transportation when they actually need it.

► Apps are enabling seamless multimodal travel.

Before smartphones, combining multiple modes of transportation to get from A to B was extremely difficult, and relied on deep metropolitan knowledge or planning time to determine how best to navigate to any given destination. But today, thanks to the vast range of shared mobility services, real-time public transport information, and the smartphones in our pockets, multimodal travel is now easier than ever. As surfaces and devices proliferate, that’s only going to increase.

Apps like Citymapper aggregate an entire city’s public transport and shared mobility service to provide door-to-door journey planning and navigation. By using our smartphone’s location data along with real-time information from public transport and shared mobility services, they make it easy to understand which combinations of transportation are best for our needs, how much our journey will cost, and how long it will take to get to our destination.

Apps are essentially removing the ambiguity, guesswork and preparation time from the multimodal travel, providing a powerful mobility proposition that makes it easier than ever to reduce our dependency on cars as our primary method of transportation.

► Apps are unbundling the car.

Since the birth of the car, the convenience of ownership has been such a powerful value proposition that we’ve literally shaped our cities and society around them. But it isn’t the technology inside motor vehicles that makes them so compelling; it’s the jobs they do for us - many of which go deeper than just personal transportation. They collect and carry our groceries. They help us move large and heavy objects. They help pick up our takeaway food. They can even make us appear stylish and successful.

However, we’re beginning to see cracks emerge in the car’s monopoly on many of these jobs, due to the rise of apps that bring products and services to our doors, on-demand. For instance, Amazon Prime Now can deliver our groceries within the hour, food delivery startups like Deliveroo and Uber Eats bring restaurant food to our homes, and online retailers like ASOS allow us to shop from the comfort of our homes. These services are essentially reducing the need to get into our cars to drive to supermarkets, restaurants and department stores. We expect that new digital services will continue to emerge at light speed, directly and indirectly unbundling more of the jobs that our cars do for us in ways that are cheaper, faster, and more convenient than ever - ultimately reducing our reliance on our personal vehicles to get around and get things done.

► Apps are driving the future.

Apps are driving what can only be described as the largest and most important evolution in transport in the last hundred years. They’re fundamentally changing the way the world moves by transforming our smartphones into our primary mode of transportation and logistics. As technology advances even further, we expect that electric and autonomous vehicles will play an even bigger role in our transportation services. Eliminating the driver and reducing the operational costs in the on-demand mobility model will drastically reduce the costs for businesses and end users. As these technologies become mainstream, we expect a surge of new services to emerge, providing us with even more choice in how we get around, and how the things that matter to us get to wherever they need to go.

Whilst we don’t expect to rely on any one service for all of our mobility needs, collectively they’ll make for a compelling transportation and logistics suite that will be cheaper, more efficient and more convenient than owning a personal vehicle.