Disclaimer: Views expressed here are personal and do not represent the employer.
I love making predictions. No, not the astrological kind but the tech landscape kind. It’s fun to crystal-gaze and think of the future. To be fair, predicting is difficult but identifying emerging trends and scenarios is plausible. And these are just that- plausible scenarios for 2021.wil
Foldable phones go mainstream by end of 2021
I was personally thrilled when I first heard of foldable screen tech and even more excited when we got to see prototypes of these handsets way back in late 2019. However, my hopes were dashed when Samsung released their first foldable phone and it became a train-wreck. Creases on screen?! That’s not good.
What I didn’t expect is that handset manufacturers would iron out the creases (pun intended) so early and we would get a slew of great foldable devices (Samsung Z Fold 2, Moto Razr, Z Flip etc) so soon. The possibilities with the foldables are too amazing to ignore- large screens are great for creation and content consumption. Smaller screens are great for daily casual tasks.
What holds foldable phones back is the pricing though. With these handsets pushing towards the 1500 $ range, they seem unaffordable but as production scales and adoption increases, prices should normalise. The big push to adoption of foldable will however be the entry of Apple. Once Apple releases a foldable phone sometime in 2022-23, the genie is out of the bottle.
Frankly, I’m bored with the Candybar generic phones and look forward to some outrageous phone designs in 2021.
Big Tech gets regulated
Governments across the world are suddenly aware of the systemic risks to small/local businesses and algorithm-based amoral information dissemination leading to national security risks led by big tech companies.
The EU has always been at the forefront of legislation against the big tech cos but surprisingly the US too has gone all-in on anti-trust investigations. On the ground, we also saw apps like Spotify and Fortnite taking a stand against the Apple Appstore revenue-sharing practices.
Mom and Pop stores go online with Whatsapp
Whatsapp is the default messaging P2P app in most nations and with over 175 million people using the service to message a WhatsApp Business account each day as of late October, it also dominated People to business messaging too. Businesses manage their WhatsApp presence via the WhatsApp Business app, which had over 50 million users worldwide as of July this year.
So building shopping as a feature into Whatsapp was a no-brainer. Whatsapp now offers hosting services for businesses to manage their WhatsApp messages and is expanding ways for customers to make purchases right from a chat. It recently also piloted Catalogue in a few countries and introduced P2P payments in India. Whatsapp already serves as an unorganised shopping/order-taking medium for small mom and pop stores in India and they have just organised it. The second-order effect is that shopping also helps to push its P2P payment feature offering.
Whatsapp may not dominate the shopping/food delivery space since eCommerce/delivery is more than aggregating demand- it involves logistics, customer care support, delivery, etc but is a great start for Whatsapp and helps small businesses go online. Watch this space.
HBO Max maxes out
The pandemic may have killed Quibi but HBO Max rode the covid wave like a beast.
The AT&T owned HBO with their legacy understanding of traditional pay-tv with HBO cable, theatrical business with Warner Bros and telecom is set for a bumper year.
When Warner announced the release of their biggest tentpole movies for 2021 on HBO Max, old-guards were shocked and felt that it cheapened their art-form.
AT&T may not mind so much if it speeds the demise of the century-old moviegoing habit.
For AT&T, HBO Max isn’t just a convenient way to get films and television shows to the public. Instead, the platform is a key part of its wireless business. HBO Max is included in packages for some high-end phone and internet subscribers, and it exists, in part, to create consumer loyalty to AT&T. For AT&T, HBO Max isn’t just a way to make money, but serves as an incentive to keep phone customers from defecting to its rivals.
Like Prime Video helps sell more shoes on Amazon, when you have nothing to lose (financially) by bringing the biggest movies on to streaming, losing the streaming wars will take a lot of bad luck. I had written about this phenomenon of using content as a vehicle for engagement for the main business, a year ago, here.
Entrepreneurship boom in small towns of India
With WFH now the norm for the top tier organisations in India post-covid, many professionals will continue/move to their small town/tier 2 city origins. To service and meet the aspirations and lifestyle-needs of these big city to small town diaspora, many businesses and micro-entrepreneurs will setup shop leading to an expanse in economic activity in these neglected towns
Covid has done what governments couldn’t.
On the fringes- AR gets more useful
As we spend more time in virtual spaces than in the real world, there is a lot of energy being spent on improving and monetising those virtual lands. There’s also a demographic shift coming. Gen Z’ers who spend all their free time on virtual metaverses like Roblox, Minecraft, Fortnite etc will soon become the dominant consuming generation edging out ageing millennials. These Gen Z’ers are more adept at AR experiences and will also expect AR/VR experiences as “hygiene” features.
There are some interesting AR patents being listed that I track regularly. For example, Google is looking at understanding a person’s physical environment and placing relevant virtual objects in a mixed reality view through smartphones or headsets. The virtual object suggestions could be based on a user’s brand interest, and interacting with a virtual object could enable further interactions such as the ability to purchase an item thus bringing Google Ads to AR. You can read more about the patent here
There’s a lot more happening in the AR/VR space. Killer AR/VR apps are a while away from mass adoption but the space is worth tracking.
These are my quick trend hunting/scenario mapping/predictions for 2021. I’m sure there are many more that I am missed out (unaware or incompetent to comprehend in the fields of bitcoin, edtech, health-tech, etc).
Have a great inventive 2021! It’s going to be radical.
This article was edited for brevity. Read the full article here.
Hitesh Shetty works at Tata Sky, a leading Pay TV operator in India, as General Manager- New Product Development. He is responsible for bringing Tata Sky on to emerging platforms like mobile, android TV and more. Prior to Tata Sky, Hitesh has worked at large telecom operators like Vodafone, Etisalat India and Idea Cellular. He has seen the meteoric rise of the mobile phone as a pure communication tool from its early 2G days to it becoming the most important all-pervasive tool, at present. He loves future-gazing and is extremely curious about where technology is leading humanity or where humanity is leading technology.
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