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COVID-19 changes business habits of tech companies in 2021

Karim Hussami

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Tech and telecom predictions for 2021 and beyond

The pandemic has changed many aspects of our lives by enhancing specific ways of doing things remotely, while shaking up some patterns in the telecom industry including advertising with new technologies.

With the start of 2021, mobile telecom networks and service providers plan to adapt and better cope with the changes that sidestepped them last year and its impact on their businesses.

“The coronavirus pushed last year’s predictions way off track, becoming a critical driver behind IT trends in 2020,” said Jan Gilg, President of SAP S/4HANA at software company (SAP).

“For 2021, COVID-19 continues to be a central story and a galvanizing force behind this year’s forecast. Digital companies had clear advantages in 2020, and in 2021 those with a strong digital plan will have the flexibility to pivot as needed. What’s exciting is that the appetite for digitization is larger than ever before, and the desire for digital, intelligent environments will lead to transformations happening at rates faster than we have ever experienced,” he added. 

The following points are some predictions for the impact on the mobile and digital world for:

1- No speed limit and more digitization

Telecom operators continuously seek new 5G innovations and expand it to reach more users as most people increased usage of video calls and look for more ways to be entertained, collaborate, and spend more time remotely from their friends and colleagues.

With the rise of the 5th-generation technology combined with many activities depending on it, digitization has increased. Open Signal, an independent mobile analytics company, expects that 5G operators will use group video communication to accelerate uptake and will promote the benefits of the added mobile capacity that the technology generates.

New projects and categories will gain control and go mainstream faster than ever before, leading to more participants and greater pressure on the capacity of mobile networks and more data traffic.

Gone are the days when users when internet subscribers and innovative developers fumed over the limited speed of their connectivity thanks to the emergence of 5G.

For example, Apple made 4K Facetime a feature that requires a 5G connection and is incompatible with 4G, which brings more demanding experience.

2- 5G and the trial of the Internet of Things (IoT)

2021 is the year local telco operators will be busy launching standalone 5G, expanding its availability, and optimizing mobile broadband while testing the technology for IoT purposes.

After all those months of struggle due to the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic and its consequences on the telecom sector, the developers of the 5G standards will continue to target IoT markets such as smart agriculture, industrial automation or automotive.

Therefore, the ongoing challenges the world faces will alternate operators’ focus to become mostly on traditional mobile telecom markets that do not require the very latest edge 5G standard to be deployed.

This procedure allows enterprises to get a glimpse of 5G technologies that are strong just as the network slicing, before relying on them. Until the COVID-19 crisis is gradually contained, companies will remain reluctant to make big bets on completely new markets without ensuring that the necessary 5G foundations are fully in place.

Moreover, contactless, and touchless mechanisms of consumer and employee interaction will gain more adoption in 2021, leading to implementation of more IoT equipment for better services.

3- Growth in demand for cashless payments

The virus continued to expand the company’s focus towards contactless activities such as cashless payments or e-commerce via smart phones.

According to MobilePaymentsToday, worldwide transaction value of global transfers reached nearly $88bn in 2020, which is 10 percent year-over-year growth (YoY). The urge to avoid human contact when paying cash led to the demand for virtual payment options, including cross border payments.

Industries that are experiencing a significant rise in international growth in particular demand digital payments in the form of direct selling, distributed development, and travel.

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Journalist for 7 years in print media, with a bachelor degree in Political Science and International Affairs. Masters in Media communications.

Technology

WhatsApp delays privacy update until May 15

Yehia El Amine

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privacy update

After a hailstorm of controversy, WhatsApp announced on Friday that it will push back its privacy update till May 15, the delay is intended to allow users ample time to review the new conditions.

Initially, the update had required people to agree to the new privacy policy by February 8 or see their accounts shutdown should they refuse. Matters became even more confusing when the company said that it partnered with Facebook on new “integrations,” without specifically saying how the data sharing process would work.

“We’re now moving back the date on which people will be asked to review and accept the terms. No one will have their account suspended or deleted on February 8. We’re also going to do a lot more to clear up the misinformation around how privacy and security works on WhatsApp,” the company said in a statement.

User backlash was driven further forward due to the spread of misinformation which stated that WhatsApp could now read people’s conversations and other personal data. “There’s been a lot of misinformation causing concern and we want to help everyone understand our principles and the facts,” the statement read.

The controversy around the update instantly spread worldwide, as many users began to migrate to rival alternative messaging apps such as Signal and Telegram.

Mobile app analytics firm Sensor Tower said last week that Signal saw 17.8 million app downloads on Apple and Google during the week of Jan. 5 to Jan. 12. That’s a 61-fold increase from just 285,000 the previous week.

Telegram, an already-popular messaging app for people around the world, saw 15.7 million downloads in the Jan. 5 to Jan. 12 period, roughly twice the 7.6 million downloads it saw the previous week.

WhatsApp, meanwhile, saw downloads shrink to 10.6 million, down from 12.7 million the week before.

Facebook execs, such as Instagram head Adam Mosseri and WhatsApp lead Will Cathcart, attempted to quell the bleeding, as they took to Twitter to clear up the confusion, but with little to no avail.

It is worth mentioning that the sudden worldwide flare up against WhatsApp could be attributed to a deeply routed problem of trust, or lack thereof.

Facebook has a notorious track record when it comes to digital privacy, to the extent of which its CEO Mark Zuckerberg has frequently testified in front of the U.S. Congress and EU Parliament for that matter.

While the company has clarified time and again that the update will not affect users when talking to friends and family, many refuse to give Facebook the benefit of the doubt.

Since its acquisition by Facebook in 2014, Zuckerberg left WhatsApp to operate as an independent entity, which would take advantage of its parent company’s infrastructure and resources.

That arrangement allowed the instant messaging app to flourish, gaining billions of news users worldwide.

However, the approach has changed over the years, as both of WhatsApp’s founders, Jan Koum and Brian Acton, left the company in 2018 due to a falling out with the Facebook CEO. Since then, efforts of stitching together messaging services of Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp have increased, in the hopes of strengthening their e-commerce presence online.  

The fact that WhatsApp has, over time, turned its sights on monetizing the platform for its large international user base, has eroded trust in the chat app, which, in turn, has had the effect of turning a relatively mundane update into a worldwide controversy.

While Facebook has doubled down on its mission to combat misinformation on the platform, the furor over WhatsApp’s privacy changes is bitterly ironic, seeing that its hands are tied due to the closed and private nature of the service.

WhatsApp has begun sharing graphics in multiple languages detailing exactly what the privacy policy update will mean, as well as giving users a three-month delay to better communicate and explain the changes.

“We’re now moving back the date on which people will be asked to review and accept the terms…We’ll then go to people gradually to review the policy at their own pace before new business options are available on May 15,” the statement highlighted.

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Step aside WhatsApp; there is a new sheriff in town

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“Come, Watson, come, the game is afoot.”

This phrase from the famous fictional detective character Sherlock Holmes sums up the fierce race between the popular WhatsApp messenger and other rivals, who have gained spectacular demand in the past few months.

In recent weeks and even months, the founders of WhatsApp have noticed with alarm a growing trend among many of its dedicated users to shift to other messenger apps on mobile phones such as Signal and Telegram.

The reasons behind the surge in the number of users of the new apps can be attributed to many reasons, starting from WhatsApp’s intention to alter its privacy act on February 8, to the mounting resentment of  U.S. President Donald Trump supporters after several leading tech and platform companies decided to ban the president from using any leading social media outlet under the pretext that Trump could incite violence.

 No matter what the real motives behind the rising demand for new apps, WhatsApp’s board of directors are facing their biggest challenge: Keeping their loyal users who have exceeded 2.5 billion accounts around the world.

However, this task may not be easy to achieve in a short period of time as many dedicated users of platforms now see an abundant and wide range of apps on mobile phones.

Just like in life, people are willing to change their habits and routine.

People may be willing to drop a certain brand of coffee or chocolate if any company succeeded in convincing the consumers that their products are as good as any item on the shelves of supermarkets.

This same simple principle can be applied to apps because in the eyes of the people, these apps have turned into a useful tool to communicate with people and even promote products.

We in the tech industry remember when Facebook acquired WhatsApp for $19 billion in February 2014.

The price tag has even stunned many tech companies around the world, with some wondering if WhatsApp really worth all this money and was it a good investment?

“For months, the company had been tracking WhatsApp obsessively using Onavo, a VPN and data analytics app, whose data showed that the messaging app was not just a rising competitor, but a potential Facebook killer,” according to one article.

According to the Associated Press, Encrypted messaging apps Signal and Telegram are seeing huge upticks in downloads from Apple and Google’s app stores. Facebook-owned WhatsApp, by contrast, is seeing its growth decline following a fiasco that forced the company to clarify a privacy update it had sent to users.

Mobile app analytics firm Sensor Tower said last week that Signal saw 17.8 million app downloads on Apple and Google during the week of Jan. 5 to Jan. 12. That’s a 61-fold increase from just 285,000 the previous week. Telegram, an already-popular messaging app for people around the world, saw 15.7 million downloads in the Jan. 5 to Jan. 12 period, roughly twice the 7.6 million downloads it saw the previous week.

WhatsApp, meanwhile, saw downloads shrink to 10.6 million, down from 12.7 million the week before.

“Experts believe the shift may reflect a rush of conservative social media users seeking alternatives to platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and the now-shuttered right-wing site Parler. The mainstream sites suspended President Donald Trump last week and have tightened enforcement on violent incitement and hate speech,” AP said.

Parler, meanwhile, was unceremoniously booted from the internet after Apple and Google banned it from their app stores for failing to moderate incitement.

Amazon then cut Parler off from its its cloud-hosting service. Experts worry that these moves could lead to more ideological splintering and further hide extremism in the dark corners of the internet, making it harder to track and counteract.

“WhatsApp didn’t do itself any favors when it recently told users that if they don’t accept a new privacy policy by Feb. 8, they’ll be cut off. The notice referenced the data WhatsApp shares with Facebook, which while not entirely new, may have struck some users that way,” the agency said.

But despite the surge in the download of new apps, Whatsapp is still by far the most popular messaging app of the three, and so far there’s no evidence of a mass exodus.

Sensor Tower estimates that Signal has been installed about 58.6 million times globally since 2014. In that same period Telegram has seen about 755.2 million installations and whatsapp a whopping 5.6 billion – almost eight times as many as Telegram.

But time will tell if the new boys will be able to gain the same momentum.

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The year when smartphones dominated

Yehia El Amine

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The year when smartphones dominated

The year 2020 will always be remembered as the year where the world’s population locked itself indoors to ward off COVID-19 pandemic.

Last year will also be remembered as the year that smartphones became one of the few tools for communication, playing games, downloading apps and accessing news and information in most countries around the world.

The year welcomed more downloads than ever before, with apps specifically focusing on influencing user discovery.

According to U.S.-based analytics firm App Annie, during 2020, time spent on mobile surged at 4.2 hours on Android, which amounted to 3.5 trillion hours in total, a figure up by 20 percent and 25 percent respectively from 2019.

“The world has forever changed. While people stay at home across the world, we saw mobile habits accelerate by three years,” said Theodore Krantz, Chief Executive Officer of App Annie.

Cohesive brand and reputation, combined with a seamlessly connected user experience, continues to drive new user acquisition in an increasingly competitive market.

As the year elapsed, demand for new apps and games consistently jumped seven percent YoY, reaching 218 billion download globally. This increase can be determined by consumers migrating more of their physical needs onto mobile, as spending hit new heights at $143 billion.

“37 percent of app users we surveyed reported they found a new app through a friend or family member. 67 percent of users agree when discovering and purchasing new apps they trust what they learn from online research, and 50 percent only consider well-known apps,” Imma Calvo Managing Director of Apps at Google, said in the App Annie report.

It is worth mentioning that mobile is the only channel with this level reach and depth of engagement.

In the U.S. alone, eight percent of people spent more time on mobile than watching live TV daily. “The average American watched 3.7 hours of live TV a day, whereas they spent 4 hours on their mobile device in H2 2020. The weighted average among countries analyzed for time spent surpassed 4 hours 10 minutes during the pandemic,” the report highlighted.

In the streaming sphere, popular Chinese video sharing app TikTok and Google’s YouTube reigned supreme over rivals.

According to App Annie’s report, TikTok easily outpaced top social networking apps in hours per user, registering a whopping 325 percent in YoY growth.

TikTok ranked in the top 5 by time spent and its average monthly time spent per user grew faster than nearly every other app analyzed, including 70 percent in the US and 80 percent in the UK — surpassing Facebook. TikTok is on track to hit 1.2 billion active users in 2021.

During 2020, 40 percent more hours were streamed on mobile phones, with time spent peaking in Q2 of 2020 in the west as the first wave of COVID-19 forced people inside.

“By 2021 and in the new normal, the average mobile streamer in the US, South Korea and the UK will download 85 percent, 80 percent and 60 percent more video streaming apps, respectively, compared to pre-pandemic levels,” the report explained.

In parallel, YouTube witnessed a surge in time spent per user on the platform, which is 6x increase from last year, recording a watch time of 38 hours a month.

While YouTube was one of the most dominating forces in the video streaming industry across all markets except China, Amazon’s Twitch made headways against many video streaming platforms, which showcases the rise of user-generated content, live streams, and e-sports. 

The increase in demand for apps and games resulted in 97 percent of publishers monetizing through the iOS App Store earned <$1 million per annum and would benefit from Apple’s App Store small business program — reducing fees from 30 percent to 15 percent.

“Many publishers — particularly gaming publishers — roll up under larger companies or parent companies and monetize across both stores — taking home much more per year in aggregate,” the report added.

According to data by market research firm Crunchbase, $73 billion in investment capital poured into mobile companies, reporting at 26 percent YoY growth in 2020. These investments were mainly led by financial services, transportation, e-commerce, and shopping.

“Investments in companies with a mobile solution represent 26 percent of total global funding dollars in 2020, per Crunchbase data. Mobile has driven consumer and enterprise technology innovation with geo-location, cloud services and Artificial Intelligence, creating leading companies in transportation, financial services, health care and entertainment,” Gené Teare Data Researcher Crunchbase, said in the report.

Throughout the year, smartphones and mobile services fueled 45 percent more financial engagement, as consumers quickly opted for contactless digital payments in light of the pandemic.

“Time spent in Finance apps during 2020 was up 45 percent worldwide outside of China in 2020 YoY. Whether leveraging wallet apps, financial services like loans, shopping for major purchases like a car or a house, or investing in the market, FinTech apps are in high demand and a critical part of the decision-making process for consumers,” the App Annie report explained.

Within the gaming industry, core gamers mainly chose mobile consoles at home, account for 66 percent of spending, and 55 percent of time spent on mobile games.

“Casual games dominate downloads with the popularity of easy- to-use names like Among Us, ROBLOX and My Talking Tom Friends. APAC drives a significant portion of spend and time spent among Core games, yet Console and PC-gone-mobile titles bridge the West into Core mobile gaming,” the report noted.

Mobile gaming is on track to surpass $120 billion in consumer spend in 2021 — capturing 1.5x of the market compared to all other gaming platforms combined.

As humanity is still not completely out of the woods in terms of the pandemic, experts forecast that while the world enters into an economic recession, technology will continue to accelerate forward regardless of the events surrounding the human race. 

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