Every trend in the mobile landscape right now seems to put more power and freedom in the hands of the user. Software follows consumers onto any device they choose. Devices can be ported to any service plan or any network. The networks can all give a comparably high level of service wherever one roams.
So the providers of all these products and services have to treat consumers better, deliver more value, adapt, innovate and delight them in order to win and keep their business. As a user, I am thrilled. As a provider, I appreciate the challenge. Here are five trends we’ll be seeing in the year ahead.
1. Mobile is the new fixed Internet.
Consumers are doing stuff on mobile networks that they once only did at home or in the office: watching movies, streaming music, making video calls, uploading and downloading large files to and from the Cloud. That is partly because caching and other clever features on phones allow them to do a lot of the heavy lifting when on Wi-Fi. But it is also because those mobile networks have gotten faster and the value has gotten better. That trend will continue and accelerate as the national carriers roll out their 5G networks.
Watch: What You Need To Know About 5G
2. Fixed Internet is the new mobile.
Yet, at the same time, public Wi-Fi, even more like the speed and performance one gets at home or in the office, is starting to push way beyond the requisite coffee shops and libraries. Consumers are finding available networks in large downtown urban areas, mass transit systems, airplanes, college campuses, sports venues and ubiquitous hot spots from their cable companies.
So who wins in the end? Well, the users mostly, bathing in beautiful broadband wherever they go. As for the networks, I believe consumers will always use those fixed Wi-Fi networks whenever they can, and that they will get even better and more widely available, and the mobile networks will be used just when we need them. I think phones and service providers will get smarter about helping users switch seamlessly between the two.
3. Smartphones continue to displace other electronics.
I am still a bit shocked when I see consumers paying (let alone standing in line to pay) $1,000 for a smartphone. Yet I remind myself of all the different roles these devices play in their lives and how many other devices they displace. I still have point-and-shoot cameras and calculators littering my home. (I think I still have a dictaphone laying around somewhere.) TVs, tablets, laptops, e-readers and maybe even game systems and Bluetooth speakers are all slightly less necessary. Perhaps that is why the average price of smartphones is rising rather than falling, as we might expect.
4. All you need is software.
Although, as one might guess, I find the counter trend even more exciting. I see smartphones experiencing something very similar to what we saw with personal computers in the '80s. Software is king: Operating systems and apps are 90 percent of the experience.
One can bring an Apple or Google identity to almost any piece of hardware, and everything that really matters — tools, social connections, work, entertainment — will be there waiting. Plus, interacting with the phone gets easier with brilliant typing features, voice recognition and artificial intelligence that knows what we are looking for or want to do anyway. That compensates a whole lot for slightly cheaper screens and buttons.
As a result, particularly on the Android side, folks can live a happy and productive life with a smartphone well below $200. I submit the Moto E4 as my favorite current example. But there are manufacturers all over the world that should be able to provide the access we need for less and less.
Related: Moto G6 Lassos Mid-Tier Market
5. So long to SIM cards.
Almost every part of the mobile experience feels like we are living in the future, except that part where we struggle to shove a tiny little piece of plastic into a tiny little slot. Well, pretty soon, with eSIM technology, that too will be a thing of the past. Maybe you have experienced a hint of eSIM when picking a data plan on an iPad. You pull up a menu of providers and plans and simply pick one on your screen. No SIM card change required.
The real benefit with eSIM goes way beyond traveling without a paperclip in your wallet. Mobile users will have unprecedented freedom to choose between services and networks. Plus, devices will have the intelligence to automatically and seamlessly switch us to the network, either mobile or Wi-Fi, that offers the best performance and value at any moment in any location.