2013 was a bumper year here in the UK for mobile technology. Not just for smartphones, with 61 per cent of adults now owning them, or even tablet computers, which sold close to a staggering 13 million in the UK, but we’ve been a part of a fundamental change – entering a new paradigm in the way that we live, work and play, all because of mobile technology.
In particular for the corporate space, where cost effective enabling technologies have increased their foothold, business cases have been transformed, and workforce mobilisation on the up and up.
My annual look ahead was spot on for 2013, but with it being such an eventful 12 months for mobile technology, could this year be as interesting? I think so. Here are some predictions for 2014.
The Internet of Things
The world is now very much a connected place, with an average of eight connected devices in many households, ranging from computers, to games consoles, tablet devices and televisions. Gartner expects the number of these IoT devices to reach 31 billion by 2020, while others suggest this is a conservative estimate. In 2014, we can expect to see more aggressive adoption of IoT to take hold, enabled by the Cloud, and proliferated by low power Bluetooth and smartphone connectivity.
The health and fitness market is already harnessing IoT to great effect, with increasingly popular wearable connected devices able to record and monitor your performance whilst for example, cycling; in real-time on your smartphone, paired via a low-power Bluetooth signal.
Over the next 12 months, IoT devices will begin to percolate into a variety of markets, extending to household appliances such as refrigerators, dishwashers and even heating systems. Connected sensors and switches fitted to these everyday items will enable us to control them remotely using our smartphones or tablets, with any faults automatically detected and reported.
A surge of B2C apps
More and more businesses are mobilising their internal operations using smartphones and tablets, facilitating flexible working and providing access to productivity apps. This year, increasingly businesses will look to launch B2C apps, recognising the importance of consumer devices as a vital way of connecting with customers wherever they are.
In a mobile era, being ready to tap into the consumer’s ability to immediately purchase products and services regardless of where or when that may be, represents a vast opportunity for businesses, and a historical shift in spending habits.
With the number of adults who own a smartphone expected to rise to 81 per cent by the end of 2014, and the number of mobile app users globally predicted to rise to 4.4 billion by the end of 2017, the time to look seriously at introducing a B2C app has arrived. Following in the footsteps of the big names in retail, 2014 will see a sharp rise in the number of businesses developing apps aimed at retaining and attracting an increasingly tech-savvy customer base, before their competitors wade in to the market.
Tablets get established in the corporate space
Towards the end of 2013 the entry price for a tablet computer dropped dramatically, with powerful, sophisticated and high quality devices retailing for as little as £100 in the run up to Christmas. Meanwhile, Indian company Datawind launched a basic seven inch tablet into the UK market for the princely sum of just £29 in December; a device which was originally designed to bridge the digital divide by breaking the price barrier for the poorest communities in its country.
Last year sales of tablets in the UK were up 50 per cent on 2012. During 2014, there will be a further 30 – 40 per cent growth in the tablet market, a proportion of which will be driven by rising adoption in the corporate space. The low price point of tablets helped tip the financial balance in favour of an ever widening range of enterprise deployments; the quick efficiency savings on offer far out weighing the initial costs. Growing numbers of fieldworkers will be equipped with tablets, in some cases in addition to a smartphone to carry out a range of tasks. Some zero-hours contractors and minimum wage staff will also likely have access to tablets in the workplace.
Level playing field for 4G
4G global subscribers shot up from 62m in 2012 to 150m less than 12 months later. The UK has been behind the curve with 4G coverage, with EE launching its offering here in mid-2013. Vodafone and O2 are set to play catch-up this year and this increased competition means EE’s monopoly days on 4G are numbered.
Being the only network provider to offer 4G has up until very recently given EE the freedom to set tariffs with unrealistically low monthly data allowances, leaving customers surprised to find they have exceeded their limits quickly. In 2014 however, we can expect to see the introduction of appropriate fair usage agreements as the network providers battle for market share, which is welcome news for the consumer and will encourage the uptake of 4G services.
The Cloud comes of age
Cloud as a service stabilised during 2013, making it a more obvious option for corporate data storage. High levels of security, increased competition between providers and the introduction of Service Level Agreements mean Cloud adoption by businesses will rise significantly during the coming 12 months. A wide range of businesses will utilise the Cloud as a disposable tool for springing up vast cathedrals of data and running fast analytics projects. Increased confidence in the security of the Cloud, coupled with its low cost, will also see it being harnessed on an ongoing basis for business centric functions.
Buy, rather than Bring, Your Own Device
Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) is a well established acronym in the business lexicon, even to the extent as to eclipse other models for mobile device adoption in the enterprise. And as Mobile Device Management firms rely heavily on BYOD schemes, it is little wonder. But far from being a quick enterprise mobility fix, some businesses are learning the hard way that BYOD can store-up problems for later. A key challenge of BYOD has always been that of ensuring corporate data security, with businesses finding the only way to do this was by ‘locking-down’ personal devices, to the disillusionment of staff.
However, the widespread availability of inexpensive smartphones has seen a new model for enterprise deployment emerge. Some innovative businesses have rolled out Buy Your Own Device schemes, whereby workers can purchase a low cost device specifically for work purposes, which will give them secure access to relevant corporate data, as well as efficiency saving applications. This year, an increasing number of businesses will roll out Buy, instead of Bring, Your Own Device schemes as a way to mobilise their blue collar workers successfully.
Smartphone users spend on average 115 minutes per week accessing social media via apps on their devices. The power of social media to reach out to huge audiences has increasing numbers of businesses embedding it within their marketing and communications strategies. 2014 will mark Facebook’s tenth birthday, whilst other well established platforms such as Twitter and LinkedIn are not far behind. But we’ve only now begun to truly understand how to harness social media tools in a meaningful way which also avoids the many pitfalls.
Social media is of course conversational - a two-way dialogue with a community - making it a powerful tool for businesses, but one which can also see negative situations spiral out of control at breakneck speed. Following the fast demise of a brand’s reputation online because of an ill thought through tweet or status update only demonstrates how it’s all too easy to get things wrong and how damaging the consequences can be.
It may have taken the best part of a decade, but having learnt from the well documented mistakes of others, we’re at last in a position to take advantage of the great opportunities that social media provides for businesses. In 2014, we will see increasing numbers of businesses have the confidence and knowledge to start utilising a variety of social media platforms effectively.