Given how far we’ve come since the first days of the modern smartphone almost two decades ago, what’s next for the future of mobile technology? Looking at a global market that feels increasing saturated, what scope will there be for growth, what happens with the devices themselves, and how does the ecosystem around them change? This post examines the four future mobile trends which are set to have the most significant impact.
- Global population over 15 years of age – 5.3 billion
- Mobile phones – 5 billion
- Smartphones – 4 billion
While in absolute terms 4 billion smartphones sound significant against the global population, we must temper the figures slightly by acknowledging an uneven distribution globally and that not all those phones are linked to mobile internet.
Nonetheless, there’s certainly enough of these there. For a feeling of just how much they’re getting used, the numbers again paint an image:
- In 2018, 52.2% of website traffic worldwide was generated through mobile phones
- Americans now take more time on mobile phones than they do watching TV.
- A year ago, mobile sales accounted for nearly 40% of retail eCommerce sales in the US.
Future Mobile Trends
With this in mind, we believe four distinct trends may shape the next mobile technology ecosystem: divergence, convergence, data, and consumption.
Consistent with Moore’s Law, mobile phones have experienced a regular improvement in processing power and memory, particularly in top-end devices. Other things, such as battery life, cameras, screen resolution, and graphics processors, are similarly improving.
However, these improvements aren’t consistent across all devices in most markets. For low-end devices, just like the stock of new affordable Android phones targeting emerging markets, compromises are increasingly being manufactured in design and performance with cost in mind.
The refresh rate for mobile phones has also slowed, resulting in a future slowdown in phone sales. The typical iPhone lifespan is now over four years and around two years for Android devices. And despite the era of the $1000 phone has genuinely arrived, the typical cost of a telephone globally is decreasing.
The divergence in top-end devices vs. lower-end devices is a factor for developers; how can we cater for all? Google has launched some lighter touch apps to focus on the limited performance of low-end devices. YouTube adjusts the quality of your video stream based on your viewing conditions in another incidental little bit of help for devices.
The cell phone has changed into a natural point of convergence for nearly all other digital technologies. For the afternoon ahead, you no longer need to check when you have your diary, digicam, MP3 player, calculator, and newspaper with you. If you’ve got your mobile, you have them all.
The expectation is this trend will continue steadily to persist into the future. For example:
- New Realities – The mobile is a lens into another world already, but greater inclusion of VR and AR technologies is likely to be an expansion of this.
- IoT Control – An even more sensor-laden environment with smart devices makes sense for mobile to function as a touchpoint for interacting with them – think of the way the Alexa App works now from your equipment and extrapolate to a smart home or office environment.
Underpinning all of it is machine learning that may perform more intelligent and intensive tasks on the device.
The ongoing future of mobile data comes through 5G, the fifth generation of cellular network technology. Early tests have shown browsing speeds being around 23 times faster and download speeds improving to be 18 times faster for many users.
In 2018, global mobile data traffic amounted to 19.01 exabytes per month. By 2022, with all of the extra speed available, mobile data traffic is expected to reach 77.5 exabytes monthly worldwide at a compound annual growth rate of 46%.
The immediate question then is, how can we fill that extra bandwidth?
Again, I’d defer to Benedict Evans:
“In 2000 or so… it seemed as though every single telecoms investor was asking, ‘what’s the killer app for 3G?’ People said ‘video calling’ a lot. But 3G video calls never happened, and it turned out that the killer app for having the net in your pocket was, well, having the internet in your pocket.“
If 3G was the birth of apps, the fatter pipes of 4G allowed for massive video consumption and the rise of streaming. 5G, we are able to assume, means existing applications will get richer again safely. There also promises to be a new wave of Snapchats, TikToks, and Instagrams that people can scarcely imagine, enabled by 5G speeds in the same way while the exponential growth of the enabled by 4G.
The increasing consumption if rich media is also something that Mary Meeker calls explicitly out in her internet trends report for 2019. Read our analysis here.
What else for the future of mobile technology?
The folding phone appears to have been the notable hardware failure of 2019 in the mobile space as several major manufacturers have promised but failed to deliver effectively enlarging screens.
However, the smartphone interface feels like it’s overdue a significant change without massive leaps happening because the touchscreen first appeared, and foldable screens at the very least show promise of progress.
Voice as software also shows potential with virtual assistants like Siri and Google Assistant gaining traction.
One way or another, the mobile persists in being central to your everyday lives; it consumes, interacts, and holds more of the planet around us. And considering these future mobile trends may help us to create and build the following generation of apps to maximize the potential of the devices.