As smartphone penetration levels rise and wearables enter the mainstream, a hyper-connected world is closer than we think, but security challenges remain, writes Aarti Nagraj.
Imagine a driverless car dropping you off at work and the doors of your office automatically opening on your arrival and greeting you. Futuristic as this scenario may sound, it may no longer be limited to a sci-fi movie.
A staggering 60 per cent of global smartphone users believe that sensors will be commonplace by the end of 2016, including doors and gates that recognise you and cars that exchange information to avoid accidents.
Up to 59 per cent also want a wristband that logs activities such as walking and sleeping, according to a recent survey by Ericsson ConsumerLab. Realistically speaking, some of these expectations may take longer than hoped to become commonplace, admits Cecilia Atterwall, head of Ericsson’s ConsumerLab. But IT players across the spectrum are gearing up to address the demands in the market, she says.
“The industry is discussing the Internet of Things and how wearables could come into play. All of us have to struggle to make it happen. Some things like wearables are picking up pace and we will have to see whether there will be take-up.
“But as the next step, the devices really have to be very simple to use and work by themselves with all the different devices connecting by themselves. And that will take further time,” she explains.
Customers are mainly concerned about smaller issues such as wearable devices draining their smartphone battery, Atterwall says. “So you have to make people feel relaxed that the basic functionality will always be there and then you have to show that you will meet their needs. From the technology providers’ perspective, what they are trying to get their heads around are viable business models,” she explains.
While a plethora of wearables were on display at Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona this year, manufacturers are still cashing in on the remarkable growth of smartphones.
During the event, which attracted a record 75,000 participants, new smartphone launches came from several big players: Samsung unveiled its new Galaxy S5, Nokia launched its affordable Nokia X range and BlackBerry announced two new devices including the Z3 and the Q20.
A common target for all these companies is the Middle East – especially regions such as the UAE and Saudi Arabia, where smartphone penetration levels are amongst the highest in the world and cash-rich consumers are always on the lookout for the newest and flashiest device.
Hence it was no surprise that Samsung chose Dubai as one of its first tier cities when launching the S5 worldwide on April 11. Deepak Babani, CEO of Eros Group, Samsung’s UAE distributor, says some of the phone’s new features are particularly alluring to regional users.
“The phone includes new features which the consumer can really utilise. For instance, the water resistance technology is something that customers are looking for, especially in the Middle East, because when we talk on the phone, we tend to sweat, and we have had people complaining about this problem in the past,” he explains. A better battery life and a finger sensor are also relevant features, he adds.
BlackBerry, which has been struggling since its much-hyped BB Z10 and Q10 phones launched last year, announced new devices that go back to its roots. The Q20, slated to launch before year- end, is modeled around a ‘classic’ BlackBerry device, featuring a 3.5 inch touchscreen and a keyboard with frets and sculpted keys.
Speaking to Gulf Business, John Sims, the recently appointed head of enterprise at BlackBerry, says: “The Q20 is targeted at the BlackBerry OS6 and OS7 older users who love their Bold but don’t have anywhere to go. The key difference between the Q20 and the Q10 is it has a bigger screen and also has the buttons that people are used to. We think this will make a big difference to people and build their affinity to the device.
“We are also working with our Thousands of visitors descended on Barcelona’s World Mobile Congress to survey the latest gadgets.
distribution partners to make sure that there is more hand-holding of users in the early stage to ensure that they start to become comfortable with the devices.”
This time around, the company is extremely careful, Sims adds. “We are setting realistic expectations as opposed to lofty unrealistic expectations. We are trying to learn from some of the things in the past and trying to get it right this time around.”
Nokia, which had a colourful stand at MWC themed around its new Nokia X range – based on the Android open source platform – says it is targeting a new segment of smartphone users.
“Nokia X is more about harnessing smartphones at the mid-to low range price-point,” explains Ajey Mehta, vice president, Middle East at Nokia.
“We have a lot of equity, a lot recall and people still trust the brand in that price-point. It’s a loved brand in that segment of $150 or below. So we are targeting all those consumers who are moving to smart devices from feature phones. We hope they will stay with Nokia as part of Nokia X, get familiar with the Nokia and Microsoft services, get familiar with the tile user interface, and when they go to their better and bigger phone, we hope they will choose the Lumia.”