CHAMPAIGN — If you think the Internet was revolutionary, just wait to see how mobile technology will change the world.
You won't have to wait long, said Alex Bratton, founder of Lextech Global Services and Lextech Labs.
Bratton outlined the changes mobile technology has made — and has the potential to make — to nearly 250 students and professionals interested in developing applications for smartphones and other mobile devices.
In his keynote address at the University of Illinois Research Park's Mobile App Development Event on Friday, Bratton said mobile technology is transforming retail, health care, all kinds of businesses and the everyday consumer.
With the spread of iPhones, iPads and other mobile devices, "there will be a computer in the pocket of every person on the planet," he said.
Already, retailers are replacing cash registers with iPod Touches to speed transactions and eliminate lines, he said.
Shopping on mobile devices is already common, Bratton said, noting that 10.2 percent of online retail traffic on "Black Friday" came from iPhones and iPads.
Having medical images available on mobile devices could lead to better diagnoses, because doctors can touch the portion of the image they want to see and get a better view, he said.
Plus, having real-time images from the operating room means medical experts at remote locations can assess the situation and "support that surgeon with specific data in real time," he added.
Bratton said mobile technology isn't just a matter of "squishing a website on a phone." Instead, it's having the power to control electrical and mechanical systems in the field with a mobile interface.
Take, for instance, the process of loading grain into a semi truck. Normally, a driver would have to get in and out of the cab repeatedly, pulling forward a few feet at a time. But with a mobile phone, the driver can control the loading with "one button push" from the truck cab, Bratton said.
That same technology can make work easier for cable installers, inspectors, data gatherers and police officers on patrol, he said.
But the biggest opportunity may lie in applications developed for specific business enterprises, Bratton said.
"Enterprise apps done right are hard," he said, but the right application for a business could boost productivity and easily return $5 million or more for the company.
In some cases, an app could have the potential to double a company's revenues, he said.
Bratton praised the use of touch screens, saying they enable "gesture control" and eliminate computing obstacles, such as less-intuitive browser interfaces.
Even 2-year-olds — and kittens — can touch an iPad screen and see results from their touch. They get interaction in a way they don't from magazines or television, he said.
Mobile devices, such as the iPod, iPhone and iPad, have enjoyed "the fastest technical adoption in the history of humanity," Bratton said.
He called that adoption a "true global phenomenon," noting that more people in India have mobile subscriptions than televisions.
Bratton advised would-be app developers "to work with at least two platforms," noting that Android and Apple iOS operating systems rival each other in popularity.
He also told app developers to focus on "one person, one activity" and keep their products simple and focused.
In the future, Bratton said, mobile devices will get better at receiving voice commands. They'll interpret gestures and understand the user's feelings based on facial expressions.
"We're going to see devices reaching out and touching us," he said.
Friday's Mobile App Development Event included a full day of presentations, with nearly two dozen speakers.
Beginning in February, the research park will offer an eight-week class for prospective app developers.
The noncredit course, to be taught by Mike Haberman, is expected to be offered for 90 minutes on Wednesday evenings. It will be open to both students and professionals — preferably with some object-oriented programming experience. Those in the class will work on actual prototype applications for companies.
Enrollment in the class is likely to be capped at 20 to 25, due to the size of the conference room, said Laura Frerichs, director of the research park.