Smart cookies – Phones can solve the real estate crunch

First published in Madhuri Sen’s column in Gulf News

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Smartphone are solving way more than just communication problems!

Who would have ever thought that as critical a problem as the real estate crunch could be resolved by mobile phones? That is not to speak of their resultant potential of slowing down the rate of consumption of fast-depleting fuel reserves and reducing carbon footprint. The smartphone — the natural device of convergence — could indeed be very smart.

Entrepreneurs can now start businesses without ever having a physical office. Companies are encouraged to have fairly wide liberal telecommuting policies or just smaller office spaces by letting large chunks of their workforce work from home.

Online malls are replacing large shopping areas, fuelled by m-commerce apps and m-payment systems. Shop floors have started to shrink to the size of their rack at the data centre.

Banks have moved to branch-free banking. The world is shrinking into network-connected mobility devices — smartphones are the new real estate. It’s been a while since banks started to incentivise customers to minimise branch visits in favour of ATMs — the next wave is for them may well be to encourage customers away from ATMs to phone banking apps that are also starting to connect barcode scanners on phones directly to e-wallets.

IBM, in many parts of the world, gives its employees an allowance to work from home, making this a clear benefit to the company in stark comparison to many other firms that still choose to view this as an employee benefit. Cisco’s internal initiative based on its Connected Real Estate solution — enables employees to work as they wish practically from any location as long as it’s networked.

While a lot of current corporate ‘flexi-spacing’ practices depend on a combination of devices such as the laptop, internet data-card, smartphone, netbook and iPad etc, over a period of time, these would necessarily coalesce into a single easy-to-carry (or better still, wear) device. Folding or projected screens and keyboards for smartphones are in the lab with the first potentially commercial ones already making headlines. This makes it fairly easy to deduce that smartphones would soon be able to do all that laptops do, with the additional convenience of the smaller, easier-to-handle form factor.

Of course, the quality of the security and speed of networks would drive usage. Eventually, the larger chunk of real estate would be ‘returned’ to the residential sector as commercial real estate is mostly replaced by the use of data centres. The earth, so far, had always shrunk in relation to demand for real estate — sending man to the moon to look for space. If viewed as the new real estate, smartphones may mean we can remain “down to earth” (pun intended) for a little while longer.