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So, how’s the smartphone revolution treating you?

What does losing weight have to do with smartphones?

Five years ago I wrote on this page that the future of your business lay in the palm of the hand. Not in the lines of fate supposedly embossed there; but in the device that I expected to be ever-present in most palms by today: the smartphone.

And the number of smartphones in use in the world has indeed rocketed. In 2010 I was urging businessfolk to pay attention, great attention. Not just if you ran a camera shop or music store or computing business – those were just the most obviously affected. I also wanted those who sold pizzas, provided taxis, ran banks, created TV content to pay attention.

Some latched onto this trend, many didn’t.

Back to weight loss. Losing weight is the perennial anguish of the modern human. As food becomes abundant and cheap and too tasty to resist, this is a guaranteed problem. It’s not going anywhere. Most people will never be able to lose weight; and most of those who lose it won’t be able to keep it off. So, in the rich world, helping people to (attempt to) lose weight is a guaranteed money-spinner.

Weight Watchers, founded more than 50 years ago, is a company that developed a system of dieting programmes, slimming food products and support centres for people seeking to lose the pounds. It grew rapidly, spreading its reach to 30 countries.

But five years ago, it wasn’t paying attention. With the smartphone came apps, and with the apps came wearable devices. The early versions of this new software and hardware were all rudimentary, and Weight Watchers executives were dismissive. But then the phneomenon tipped: people began wearing fitness-tracking bands connected to apps on their phones; they used calorie-counting apps that made that job very easy (and mobile); they joined digital support groups to help keep their determination to lose weight strong.

The new technology did all the things that Weight Watchers had been doing for decades; but it did it digitally, cheaply and conveniently.

Last month, Weight Watchers reported its 8th straight quarterly decline in revenue. It shares, which had already declined 78 per cent over the past three years, fell, 35 per cent in a single day. The company announced senior leadership changes and a drastic cost-cutting campaign. It also announced accelerated plans to introduce its own modern devices and software.

All things you do when it’s too late.

Weight Watchers may well recover – it still has a huge base of traditional users – but its heyday is gone. It should have been the first to innovate into the new space in dieting, but it was complacent. It was also comfortable; and remember, the comfortable never innovate.

So where is your business when it comes to that ubiquitous little device in every hand? Are you wide awake yet? When even Nairobi’s taxi drivers are getting jittery about taxi apps, shouldn’t you be paying deep attention? When most people on the planet carry a mobile computing device that tracks their movements, their preferences, and their activities and allows them to make choices and payments based on real-time, locational, personalized information – well, you’d better be ready, whatever line of business you’re in.

Note: pretty much everything Radio Shack used to sell in 1990 is now contained in your smartphone. And Radio Shack itself? Born in 1921, 27,500 employees by 2013, bankrupt in 2015.

But this isn’t about the technology industry; it’s about your industry. Allow me to make some more ‘predictions’ that are merely statements of the obvious. Banks, TV companies, newspapers, utility providers, retailers, healthcare providers: you ain’t seen nothing yet, particularly in Africa. The real upheavals are yet to come.

In 2020, if I’m still writing this column, and wherever you are and on whatever thing you’re reading it, let’s discuss the issue again.

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