This spring, tech industry analyst and consultant Dean Bubley presented some valuable insights on the mobile telecoms disruption from 2015 and 5 years ahead. I found one of them –
“Voice is becoming purpose- and context-specific”,
– to be extra fascinating. The rise of WebRTC makes voice evolve in a way that’s completely disrupting the market. And the magic is in mobile platforms. Bubley has spotted three major trends: Competition, Context and Substitution. I decided to take a closer look…
Image borrowed from Dean Bubley’s Mobile Telecoms Disruptions 2015-2020
“Facebook is not the only one in town anymore”, as Ben Evans says. More apps are providing cheap, high quality voice calls, and the competition is getting tougher by the day. Companies like Viber, Line and KakaoTalk are paving each other’s way towards “cheaper, better ‘calls’”, as Bubley suggests. The fact that competition makes for empowered consumers and higher market standards is no news, but what’s interesting is its potential to completely alter the way we voice.
Chart borrowed from Ben Evan’s Mobile, context and discovery
Besides the obvious game changer: Skype, highly acclaimed WhatsApp, now described as “the most disruptive force in the history of the telecommunications industry”, recently launched voice calling to all Android WhatsApp users – something that hasn’t been passed over this spring. Sumit Agarwal on PC-Tablet even argues that “with crisp sound, a solid connection and WhatsApp’s massive market share, the company is well positioned to become the industry standard for voice calls.”
Some wonder why WhatsApp has become so popular, when there are so many competitors out there. Is it because of their first mover advantage, or their attentive and user friendly features? Many others, for instance Android Authority, Life Hacker, and Pocket-lint, has lined up and compared competing platforms, to guide us through the overwhelming amount of services to choose from.
What’s certain is that the post-PSTN era is minimizing operators costs for users with Internet access. And the now competitive market is unavoidably lowering the prices, as well as increasing the quality of the calls. But is that enough to keep the users loyal?
Another possible reason for WhatsApp’s popularity is their expansion to other platforms, including Nokia S40 (a non-smartphone platform). When it comes to retention, it’s not so much about familiarity or customization, nor is quality enough: A user that is bound to a platform due to its limited reach will easily be persuaded to switch platform, if the other users are. And with a bunch of suitors breathing down the neck, the user won’t have a hard time finding a substitute. Interoperability can prevent this.
The second major trend is context. We’re actually in the middle of a great paradigm shift, where the previously isolated voice call is getting purpose specific, and embedded in contexts. This trend is less about where to call from, and more about why.
One of Bubley’s examples is Amazon Mayday, a real-time tech support system with Kindle HD compatibility. Announced in 2013, this “dream for major retailers” use video and voice on-device to provide a revolutionary kind of customer support, turning the old idea of call centers into a seamless experience.
Another one of his examples is the Messages app on iOS8, which allows users to send and receive free voice messages through iMessage. The user is simply able to record sound bites, “a voice, a song or a big laugh” as Apple themselves promote it. The feature is well thought-out, as a message plays when the receiver holds the iPhone to his or her ear. In that way, the message can be received in public contexts, without any embarrassment or disturbance. A clear purpose. The feature is surprisingly unknown, but very suitable for sending audio snaps.
And speaking of which, Snapchat is the third example of how communication is being modified to fit certain contexts. The social platform enables various ways of communicating leisurely, just as many other services do, but the difference, whether it’s photos, video calls or chat conversations, is that they’re self-destructive. In other words, Snapchat realized users potential fear and anxiety of being haunted by the stuff they share online, and created a solution for it. Or did they? Either way, my point is:
With solutions like these, calling is the technology but not the purpose. Depending on the context, the purpose varies from getting tech support fast and easy, or capturing a sound, to sending sexts without the risk of being embarrassed later on. What are the implications of this?
Image borrowed from Ben Evan’s Mobile, context and discovery
Interoperability again becomes relevant: the purpose specific communication platforms results, not only in contextual voice but also in contextual identities, which can be beneficial for both users and businesses to integrate and share with each other. And that brings me to the third trend…
With market competition and contextual voice, the telecom industry is not the only one that should worry. We’re also approaching the gig-economy, where many traditional service industries are being challenged by the buzzword “on-demand”. Users are quickly and impeccably getting comfy with just-in-time solutions like Uber, Postmates, and Unwind Me, which in turn depend on real-time communication. As Bubley argues, voice makes for better ways to perform tasks. Therefore, voice also contributes to substituting traditional full-time workers with “giggers”.
Image borrowed from Ben Evan’s Mobile, context and discovery
Calling your driver, delivery guy or masseur seamlessly and without having to give away your private phone number is becoming a must-have feature to keep users happy. Everyone wants the transactions to be smooth and secure. In this sense, the third trend is not so much about replacing as it is about enriching. We’re seeing this great exchange between in-app voice providers and on-demand apps, where the former powers the latter by both adding value to the users and minimizing costs for the business.
The three trends are all intertwined. A new way of doing something (context) makes for new business opportunities (competition) which leads to collaborations and falls (substitution). What does this suggest?
First off, mobile network operators have reasons to re-think their market position as voice gets ubiquitous, interconnected and contextually embedded. And app businesses needs to stay on their toes, as well as have an attentive approach to the user demand as competition gets tougher.
Secondly, the new purpose specific voice makes it vital for businesses to understand their own why, and apply a voice solution that fits the purpose. In what context does your users interact with the app? When is voice a necessity, when is it a boost?
Thirdly, mobile telecom’s not the only market that’ll be disrupted within the next five years. Retailers, wholesalers, and taxis are just a few examples of the many industries that’ll be forced to adapt to the new economy. To all involved: seize the opportunities that comes with adding in-app voice, because call it what you want – call is what you want.
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