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The smartphone revolution continues apace

Jul 22, 2012 Sunday Nation, Technology

Looking at my mobile phone bill the other day, I noticed that the part of the bill generated by making calls has been falling steadily, while the data component has been rising.

That reminded me: just over two years ago, I wrote on this page that the future of your business lay in the palm of your hand – in your smartphone. Regardless of which industry you worked in.

I suspect quite a few wondered what I’d been smoking at the time, so perhaps it’s time to take stock of that prediction. Here’s what I wrote in 2010:

“The cellphone, by mutating into the smartphone, has come of age. When combined with the widespread advent of broadband connectivity, it is going to whack every industry on the head…have you studied the queues around most mobile-company customer centres? They should give you pause, whichever industry you happen to be in. This thing is going to get us all. Every business leader worth her salt is paying a lot of attention to the mobile revolution.”

Fast-forward to the present day. A recent survey done in the UK reveals that making phone calls is now fifth in the list of what mobile phones are actually used for. Calling is now way behind web surfing, social media, listening to music and playing games as a mobile activity. And don’t forget, emailing, texting, watching TV shows and movies, reading books and taking photos are rapidly catching up with making calls.

In other words, the smartphone is now the digital equivalent of a Swiss Army knife, as the Digital Trends blog characterized it recently. The research, conducted by O2, also found that more than half of respondents now use their handset in place of an alarm clock, and nearly half have done away with their watch altogether in favour of their smartphone. 39 per cent use it as their main camera, 28 per cent use it instead of a laptop and 6 per cent even prefer to watch TV on it rather than on a conventional set.

Are you paying attention yet?

Looking at what’s changed for me, I see that the richness of mobile apps has made my own devices even more useful. In addition to being all the things mentioned above, my smartphone is also: a travel concierge that contains all my itinerary details; a travel guide that provides location-specific information; a TV set for breaking news; a newspaper and magazine reader; a high-definition video recorder; a digital filing cabinet; a scanner; a hyper-powerful reference engine; a speaking personal assistant; and even a poetry translator!

I pointed out in 2010: the thing that the smartphone, and now, its bigger cousin, the tablet, have done is to make the internet intimate, portable and accessible. Combine that with two other forces: the falling prices of entry-level mobile gadgetry and broadband connectivity; plus the fact that Africa has the world’s youngest population. I think you can work out what’s about to happen.

By next year, I confidently expect to be doing away with some credit cards and waving my phone at hotels and shops in order to make payments. In 2017, I expect Kenya’s general election to be heavily influenced and possibly swung by social media.

The point of this technology is that it will not stay in the grip of an affluent elite. The smartphone is going to be a device found in the hands of most human beings on the planet in the not-too-distant future. It will be a device on which most people consume stuff, create stuff, manage stuff, pay for stuff and are influenced by stuff. It’s going to affect you, whatever you’re doing today. So do please walk up and smell the coffee. And by the way, there are hundreds of apps for coffee…

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