‘Mobile-first’ is more than a buzzword

The smartphone will level the tech playing field around the world.
26 April 2019

6bn smartphone users will exist across the globe by 2020. Source: Unsplash

Ever since mobile browsing dethroned traditional laptop and desktop surfing in 2016, businesses were forced to accept that we are now living in a mobile-first world. Google stepped up to provide a mobile-friendly web tool, and any company that failed to adapt to the new mobile landscape would see their website slide down the rankings.

Here in 2019, there is no excuse for any business not to have a mobile optimized website that delivers the same experience across laptops, smartphones, and tablets. However, do not be fooled into thinking the mobile wave is now over. There is an increasing argument to suggest that it’s just getting started.

5G-enabled networks are expected to provide a faster and reliable throughput of data at a lower latency. There are many predictions around how emerging technologies such as 5G and artificial intelligence (AI) will converge to create not just a faster world, but a completely different world.

Rather than dismiss the impending arrival of 5G as hype, it’s time to prepare for a new infrastructure where emerging technologies will converge. Before we get too carried away dreaming of a new Jetsons-style life, the emergence of autonomous vehicles and smart cities is only one side of the coin.

Currently, all eyes are on technologically advanced countries such as the US and China which are caught in a race to capitalize on the arrival of 5G. While the usual suspects back for control of the technology and its transformative qualities, there is an argument that we need to zoom out and think bigger and most important of all, think differently.

The most interesting revelations are that many developing countries and entire continents such as Southeast Asia and Latin America are entirely skipping the era of landlines and desktop computers to enter the world of mobile. To put this into perspective, in India alone, smartphone users are expected to double to 829 million by 2022.

There are also six billion smartphone users worldwide expected by 2020. The mobile-first world is no longer just another tech buzzword. The reality is that 5G networks and mobile technology could level the playing field for small businesses and citizens of the world in a way that we have never seen before.

Technology and new innovative solutions have the potential to lift people out of poverty for the first time. For example, there are an estimated 1.7 billion adults in the world that remain unbanked. Mobile and emerging technologies such as blockchain are bringing people into the financial system. In an always-connected world, we can expect to see the emergence of new business models fit for a digital age of collaboration.

We have already witnessed how many former Fortune 500 companies’ strengths became their biggest weaknesses. The shackles of ineffective structures and cumbersome processes can grind the progress of any business to a halt. The key to thriving and surviving in a new mobile era of disruption will be those that are highly agile, innovative and can quickly adapt to exponential change.

The most exciting aspect of digital technologies is that it can enable small businesses and startups to outperform even the largest organizations. The modern David and Goliath story could result in the transformation of entire nations and create unprecedented opportunities for its citizens that have been neglected for too long.

With 98.7 percent of the developing world embracing mobile, we could finally see the tearing down of institutional barriers that have prevented entire continents from competing. When mobile technology lowers the levels of entry, it will also level the playing field. Every member of the global community would simply need an entrepreneurial spirit and internet connection to build a better life.

Businesses of all sizes should be thinking about their presence in these emerging markets here in 2019. It’s not just about being early and securing a competitive advantage today but being prepared for the outcome when the inevitable investment in technology transforms these regions in the immediate future too.

The prospect of self-driving cars and smart cities will not excite everyone and possibly even divide opinions. But, a mobile-first world that serves the many, not just the few, well that’s something we should all get excited about. In a world where tech headlines are obsessed with foldable phones, sometimes we need to remind ourselves that technology really works best when it brings people together.