WE already know that smart devices are the way of the future. Technological advancements have simplified tasks, improved patient care, enhanced communication and given us innovative teaching solutions. They will even help us live longer, if technology firms are to be believed.
Consumer trend forecasts for 2015, unsurprisingly, show that smartphone use will keep rising, which will further stimulate digital technology hardware and services.
International telecom infrastructure group Ericsson says that because the Internet makes us more informed, we are making better decisions.
But will smartphones really help us live longer? Ericsson’s 2015 “10 hot consumer trends” report says various cloud-based services do exactly that. Jogging apps, pulse meters and plates that measure food are believed to help prolong lives by up to two years per app, it says. You decide.
Michael Björn, head of research at Ericsson ConsumerLab, says the cumulative effect of smartphones becoming part of everyday life is “astonishing”.
“As consumers, we try out new apps and keep the ones we think improve, enrich or even prolong our lives at such a rapid pace that we don’t even notice that our attitudes and behaviours are changing faster than ever,” he says.
He adds that services and products that quite recently seemed beyond imagination are now easily accepted and are expected to rapidly reach the mass market.
Ericsson says 47% of smartphone owners would like to be able to pay for things electronically without an automatic transfer of personal information and 56% would like all Internet communication to be encrypted. More people are concerned about online safety because of the rise in cyber crime. Mobile payment is gaining momentum, especially in countries without a strong banking system.
The International Data Corp’s (IDC) Mark Walker says security is a big concern. He expects governments to address cyber security legislation and education, and consider further country-specific data protection. This may require an in-country presence for multinational ICT providers.
Payment systems will evolve. Ericsson found that 48% of smartphone owners would like to use their phone to pay for goods and services and 80% believed that the smartphone would replace their entire purse by 2020.
A number of new mobile payment services have been launched recently, including MTN Mobile Money, Vodacom’s M-Pesa and Standard Bank’s SnapScan.
In Africa, the use of smartphones will continue to increase in 2015.
But older feature phones, which are far from dead, also have a role to play.
George Kalebaila, senior research manager for telecoms & media for IDC Africa, says feature phones are popular because some of the entry-level smartphones introduced in many markets on the continent are still too expensive for many people. However, there is a drive by network operators to provide low-cost handsets, including smartphones, he says.
As communications and technology markets change, the focus will no longer be on connectivity, but on how to offer value to customers, says Kalebaila.
Technological breakthroughs won’t be limited to smartphones. Next year, says Ericsson, will be historic as more people will choose to watch streamed video (sometimes on smartphones) on a weekly basis, rather than traditional broadcast television.
In SA, a number of video-on-demand services that allow consumers to download and stream their favourite series and movies were launched this year. These include Times Media Group’s Vidi and Altech’s Node.
“Viewers are shifting towards easy-to-use, on-demand services that allow access to video content across platforms,” says Björn.
Next year, it is expected that intra-Africa trade in technology-related initiatives such as payment systems, financial inclusion initiatives and cross-border payments will increase.
“Technology will help breach intra-Africa trade barriers by removing obstacles, increasing efficiency and encouraging transparency,” says Walker.
Mobile network operators and banks are already looking at ways to effect low-cost cross-border money transfer.
On a corporate level, research firm Frost & Sullivan says mergers and acquisitions, infrastructure sharing and market liberalisation are expected to reshape the telecommunications landscape. The convergence of telecom services with, for example, media and banking will drive demand for fast, reliable and affordable broadband, it says.