By Ernst Wittmann, global account director: MEA and country manager: southern Africa at TCL.
Mobile phones were originally created to enable us to take and make phone calls on the go. Today, however, voice calls comprise a small part of the functionality that most of us use on our smartphones.
Indeed, more and more people don’t even answer their mobile phones unless it’s someone they know, but rely on their mobile device for just about everything else in their day to day lives.
Recent research from the World Economic Forum paints a picture of how deeply embedded smartphones are in our day-to-day routines. The survey of 8 000 people from eight countries found that 50% of respondents are now more concerned about forgetting their phone than their wallet and only 14% of people still use smartphones purely for calls and messaging.
The majority of respondents consider their smartphone “a necessity”, to be used for things like checking the local news and weather and more than a third of respondents consider their smartphone their “life”. Smartphones have become the go-to device for so many things we do each day, taking the place of essentials like business cards, watches, alarm clocks, newspapers, calendars and more in our lives.
Here are some examples of tools and technology the smartphone is displacing:
* Digital cameras – We’ve come a long way since the two megapixel phone cameras of the feature phones of the mid-2000s. Today, it’s not unusual to find eight or even 12 megapixel cameras in a moderately-priced smartphone, alongside advanced features such as HDR and wide-angle. The quality is good enough for most casual snappers, especially given that most photos are taken to be shared on social media. The result is that smartphones are putting the traditional entry-level camera market under strain as amateur photographers use their mobile devices to photograph everything. GfK South Africa’s research shows that sales in the entry-level camera market dropped by 17% and the Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) market by 33%, in the fourth quarter of 2018, for example.
* Standalone navigation devices – In the early 2000s, standalone GPS navigation devices were evolving from expensive toys to mainstream products. But the integration of GPS navigation and powerful mapping applications into smartphones towards the end of the decade meant that the growth of the market was not meant to last. Just a decade later, most people prefer to use their mobile phone to get around and the personal navigation device has become a niche product.
* Fixed-line telephones – According to the World Bank, global fixed-line subscriptions peaked at 1.25 billion in 2009, then started to decline. By the end of 2017, there were less than one billion fixed-line subscribers in the world. By contrast, there were nearly 7.7 billion mobile subscriptions worldwide by the end of 2017. Rapid deployment of mobile networks and adoption of mobile phones in emerging markets mean that many people in Africa, Asia, Middle East and Latin America will probably never get a fixed-line service. And even in the rich world, many people would perhaps not bother with a fixed-line telephone if was not bundled with their fibre Internet service.
* Portable music players – Remember portable MP3 players? Like personal navigation devices, they were a growing market for a while in the early to mid-2000s. Today, you can still buy a portable music player if you are looking for a cheap and durable alternative for hiking or if you listen to a lot of music and want to preserve smartphone battery life. But most people today find a smartphone and an app like Spotify or Google Play Music more than adequate for their needs.
* Gaming consoles – The gaming console and PC market has so far proven resilient in the face of the mobile device onslaught, especially among the hardcore gamers who prefer a dedicated controller and more processing power to render high-quality graphics. But things are shifting with Microsoft, Google, Sony and others looking to turn games into a cloud streaming service similar to Netflix or Spotify. Sure, it may be while before mobile broadband can deliver games streaming with the same quality and response time as a device on your desk or in your lounge, but change is underway. What’s more, many of the world’s most popular games are already on mobile devices – Fortnite, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, Minecraft etc – where they command massive audiences.
The smartphone is by no means done displacing other tools and disrupting industries. Mobile wallets on smartphones have the potential to one day replace the role of cash and plastic as a payment method, for example, while your smartphone is well suited to becoming a universal remote control for all the devices in your home or even a universal key for your car, house and hotel door.
According to the WEF research, only about one-fifth of respondents have tried using their smartphones for smart home devices or connected security systems but more than 40% plan to try these services soon. Thanks to voice assistants, it could become increasingly rare to even use a keyboard. In fact, if WEF had does the same research in five years’ time, you can bet sure that way more than a third of respondents will describe the smartphone as their entire life.