In a fast-changing word, anyone who defines themselves around one given technology is making a big mistake. That is why you should be suspicious of the common tendency in our industry to equate “m”, as in mobile, with SMS.
This approach is even more risky in the low-income, under-served markets where organizations such as mine ply their trade. It is an unfortunate reality that the people in these markets are commonly lumped together into a single segment (“the poor”) and that the characteristics of this “segment” are plagued by stereotypes and grossly flawed assumptions.
SMS is dead
“Radio is still relevant”. “They love SMS”. Because they’re poor, you know. They don’t know better.
May have been the case years ago. But today? Broadband penetration is growing exponentially and smartphones get cheaper by the day, even as feature-phone manufacturing is dying out, making pretty much every new phone on any market “smart”. Meanwhile, after years of atrocious SMS “campaigns” that these people have been subjected to (“for their own good”), even if they once “loved” SMS, no-one does that anymore. Communication happens mostly over voice, whatsapp, wechat or facebook messenger. If you are in the business of reaching low-income markets with technology (including *barf* “mHealth” space) and haven’t started investing in smart technology years ago, you are probably going to miss this boat.
And if you are still out there pushing the virtues of SMS or USSD, you risk basically being that person who in 1998 was betting heavily on teletext technology. Because, you know, everyone had a TV at home, while no-one had a computer. (Younger readers & history buffs, head here to learn about teletex).
But enough already of the past and the present. What about the future? How will technology evolve and what trends can we identify now that we can move towards to stay ahead of the curve? Where is the smart money of the future?
For starters, let’s start by stating that Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) are not trends — they are the core of any relevant future technology. That’s for me a fact, not a trend. And because of the development in AI, I see three huge trends — all of them unlocking exhilarating opportunities on any markets, but particularly on our markets:
1. There will be a move towards natural language when interacting with technology. This is very exciting, as it means people don’t have to learn a new, unnatural way to interact with a device. This is a huge barrier for technology adoption currently (don’t believe me? look at your dad struggling with the settings on his iPhone), particularly on market segments where literacy is low. AI will ensure that people will be able to communicate naturally, using their own language. AI will be advanced enough to function and evolve along with the most obscure languages. Given the shape of the demographic pyramid in these markets (up to 75% of population in some countries under 15), if the timing is right, we’ll have a huge baby-boomer generation that will be native users of natural language technology. They will all come into the market at once, which will change the current economics of building for these markets in interesting ways.
2. The mobile-phone as we know it will disappear, to be replaced by a unique “gateway device” that will aggregate functions currently done by various individual devices, including your phone. Individual devices will become individual functions, existing deep into the cloud, waiting to be activated/ called, as needed, by our gateway device. What will be this gateway device? Well it may be something along the lines of amazon echo. But it could also be something along the lines of facebook messenger, whatsapp or wechat. While there will be a few out there, competing, chances are one of them will reign supreme — the next creative monopoly.
3. Which means, front-end as we know it will disappear. With the move to a single gateway device that uses natural language there will be no more need for visual interfaces. No more websites, apps or facebook timelines. All the work will be in back-ends — highly sophisticated machines using unlimited processing power to pull and push highly personalized information towards people, as needed, over smart APIs. For example, instead of going to facebook to check out someone’s updates, I may just ask “Hey, what has been so-and-so up to lately”. Or, instead of heading to some newspaper’s page to catch up with the news, I might just go “What’s going on in the news”. This may be an opportunity to say “I also want to know what the other side is saying”.
What does this all mean for us, on our under-served markets where people are still not connected, not banked and struggling in a general environment of scarcity?
Well it means a lot. Our markets have always followed global technology trends, and, at times, have out-paced modern markets unhinged by legacy infrastructure. This will continue to be true. In fact, I believe the rate of adoption will be even closer, as some of these trends are particularly relevant on these markets. Once all the “smartness” moves to the cloud, there will be no more need for expensive devices. The gateway device will be cheap, probably free. Support happens only at the back-end. There is nothing that crashes or needs physical fixing. No need to learn awkward ways to set things up and/ or look for stuff.
At Triggerise we take these trends very seriously. We were building apps when others were pushing USSD. Our platforms already integrate with messenger, wechat and most chat programs. We have been investing in machine learning for a while now. We are building chatbots. We can’t wait for the future.