Wearables could replace the smartphone sooner than you think
The mass-adoption of the smartphone has defined the century so far. The progression from landlines to mobile phones to ubiquitous high-performance computers in almost every pocket has been astonishingly fast. Now, as technologies like the cloud, the Internet of Things (IoT) and AI continue to reshape our ideas of what a smartphone is capable of, it’s worth asking: “what’s next?”
Over the past five years, wearables have steadily grown to fill a number of niches, from healthcare and exercise monitoring devices to productivity tools. As the IoT increasingly transforms everything from manufacturing plants to refrigerators into a “smart” device or sensor, generational improvements to the technology have the potential to turn wearables into a potential replacement for our smartphones.
However, so far, the technology has been largely limited to specific use cases by two main factors.
The first major hurdle between current generation wearables and a device that can effectively replace a smartphone is the issue of user interface. Let’s take the smart watch as an example.
By necessity, devices designed to be work rather than carried have smaller screens, meaning much less real estate can be dedicated, both to displaying information and to user inputs. Typing a text-message on a smart watch seems like a giant step back to the days of number pad inputs on mobile devices. While voice and gesture commands are getting better all the time, the technology undoubtedly hasn’t reached an inflection point.
The limits of isolation
The reason why most wearables have so far only been constrained to niche functions is the fact that their size and lack of connectivity to the world around them limits the number of things they can do, unless they’re paired with a parent device, relegating them to a role that’s little more than a glorified display screen.
“Many people found the first wave of wearables came up short. Entry-level price points were high, form factors were clodgy and accuracy left a lot to be desired,” writes Jen Quinlan, VP of Marketing at gesture recognition company Rithmio, in a , adding that current generation wearables have a and a high number of product abandonments within the first six months.
Getting wearables right
There are a number of other issues that wearables will need to overcome before they can play a larger, more consistent role in our lives, let alone replace smartphones. Typically lacklustre battery life, high price points for relatively few functions, and freedom from parent devices, all problems that need to be solved.
However, the two core issues of interfacing and connectivity will still be the main bar to clear. Solving those problems could that could convince the average user to trade in their smartphone by the end of the decade.
On the display front, there are two technologies that could pave the way for a wearable smartphone. While both are in their relative infancy, the one we’re seeing the most progress from right now is flexible displays.
Samsung and Motorola were among the first to release folding phones, but they aren’t alone. As displays get thinner and increasingly flexible, the lines between a phone a futuristic snap bracelet get decidedly blurry.
The second breakthrough technology is probably one of the ones most firmly etched into our conception of a futuristic world: holograms. Using light to display a smart virtual screen, wearable smart devices would no longer be constrained by the limitations of their size, able to project out an interactive touch display which, in combination with increasingly capable gesture and voice controls - as well as Augmented and Virtual Reality interfaces - could begin to see a user interface experience that outstrips the capabilities of a single pane of glass.
Simultaneously, increased interoperability between wearables and their surroundings could further boost this user experience. As every sensor and device in the modern home becomes interconnected via cloud-based IoT and edge networks, the ability to use a smart bracelet as a universal remote (in a similar way that smartphones are becoming the controller for our smart homes today) will massively compensate for the lack of a six inch touch screen.
Imagine a keyboard and screen in your office with your smartwatch as the anchor device. Simply walk up to it, connect, and use the basic screen and keyboard to type up an email or essay that is stored in the cloud via your watch. Then, the next person who wants to use the screen and keyboard simply uses it as a display and input device for their own smartwatch.
The necessary computing power for smart devices to perform tasks like this also won’t likely be dependent on smaller, more powerful hardware, but rather, on the kind of connectivity that can host increasingly powerful virtual machines remotely, that are then accessed via a smart device.
Obviously, this kind of omni-channel connectivity and aren’t with us yet, but given the speed of innovation between the iPhone One and Samsung’s Galaxy Fold, it’s no great leap to expect that these kinds of innovations could be a transformative force in our day to day lives before we ring in 2030.
Mobilise: eSIMs are essential for digital nomads
The shift to remote working has forced many organisations to rethink whether an employee’s proximity to the office should still be a key factor for certain roles. In theory, technology allows us to work from anywhere in the world, but just how easy is it to manage a global workforce?
Here, Hamish White, CEO of telecommunications software provider Mobilise, explains why businesses looking to adopt remote working should consider digital alternatives to traditional subscriber identity model (SIM) technology.
According to analyst company Gartner, more than 80% of companies plan to allow employees to work remotely at least part time after the pandemic. While restrictions on overseas travel still limit employees’ ability to truly ‘work from anywhere’, we could soon be seeing a more globally dispersed workforce.
Previously, it’s been difficult to work from another country for a long period of time. Not only because most companies wouldn’t allow it, but also due to the limitations of tourist visas that make staying in another country for more than a few weeks difficult. However, things could be about to change.
The digital nomad visa
Countries around the world are experimenting with ‘digital nomad’ visas that will blend the boundaries between work and travel. One of the first countries to offer a long-term remote working visa was Barbados, with the launch of the Barbados Welcome Stamp in 2020, enabling digital nomads to stay for over twelve months — far longer than the usual 30 to 90 days.
Other countries have followed suit. It’s now possible to obtain similar visas for Bermuda, Costa Rica, Estonia, Croatia and the United Arab Emirates. Quite ironically, digital nomads are easy to locate. They build their careers on the internet, using technology to both share aspects of their personal lives and to keep in touch with colleagues during working hours. Having a mobile device is a tech essential.
Therefore, businesses that want to seize remote working opportunities will require technology that makes keeping in contact as simple as possible. While such travel freedom isn’t viable for all organisations, it’s evident that a large portion of businesses will retain some form of flexibility moving forwards — whether that means remote, hybrid or flexible working.
Service providers (SPs) are listening to these demands, offering communication packages that include video conferencing tools, unified communications bundles and mobile device management (MDM) offerings including bring your own device strategies. While technologies such as Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) or WebRTC do well to support remote working, using the internet to make calls and reduce operational costs, there’s another area of mobile software that SPs are beginning to consider.
Introducing the eSIM
SIM cards are an integral authentication method for mobile networks, and have been helping users access services securely since 1991. Inside the SIM card sits a programmable integrated circuit (IC) chip called a Universal Integrated Circuit Card (UICC) that stores the SIM’s authentication parameters, including subscriber credentials and network authentication keys.
Until now, mobile subscribers have had to manually insert SIM cards into their device as part of its set up. This has meant that a device can’t use the mobile network until the SIM card is available. It has also meant that mobile users need multiple SIM cards if they have more than one network contract, so those working remotely would need to keep track of several SIM cards, if they had mobile contracts in different locations.
But as working models shift, telecoms customer expectations are changing. Users, more than ever, are looking for simpler, more flexible ways of managing their mobile subscriptions from digital channels. And that’s where eSIMs come into play.
The standards of an embedded SIM, or eSIM, were introduced by the Global System for Mobile Communications Association (GSMA) in 2010, primarily to serve Internet of Things (IoT) products. The technology allows service providers to provision — or programme — service profiles remotely. However, the same technology can be applied to consumer products, meaning a SIM profile could be provisioned remotely without the need for a physical SIM card.
The consumer use of eSIM was accepted by the GSMA in 2016 but has only really started to gain traction in the last twelve months as the penetration of eSIM capable devices has reached critical mass. eSIM means that SIM card technology can now be embedded into the device, rather than on the separate physical UICC.
Flexible, digital communication
There are many benefits to using eSIMs in mobile devices. One of the major boons is remote provisioning, allowing users to set up their devices instantly without needing to visit a retail store or wait for their SIM card to arrive via the post. For those working remotely, the ability to connect and communicate without delay will be key to maintaining productivity.
Having contracts with more than one network is also simpler. Because an eSIM lets you store multiple mobile services in a single device, users will be able to switch quickly between them. This could come in handy if in areas with poor or no signal, switching between personal or work contracts or availing of alternative, more competitive, roaming services.
Another advantage of eSIMs is that they will eventually negate the need for a physical SIM card and its tray. Smartphone manufacturers could use this space to increase a phone’s battery size or add more features to a handset.
Widespread adoption of eSIMs is inevitable — GSMA Intelligence estimates they will be used in between two and three billion smartphones by 2025. To help SPs get ahead of the curve, Mobilise has launched its own eSIM as a service.
Consisting of Mobilise’s digital platform, M-Connect, and eSIM infrastructure from Oasis Smart SIM, the service offers users a one-tap installation method that eliminates the need for QR codes and physical SIM cards. Using Mobilise’s eSIM as a Service, SPs can fully digitalise their services to make the onboarding process quick and uncomplicated for end users.
M-Connect takes digital service management a step further. As a fully customisable, modular platform, M-Connect’s digital interfaces allow for easy onboarding of customers via in-app eSIM provisioning. To make remote working effective, easy to manage software services is key. Using platforms such as M-Connect, SPs can implement digital-first service propositions with flexible modules that meet business needs. In turn, end users benefit from a truly digital experience that delivers freedom and flexibility to mobile communications.
Work has become a thing that you do, rather than a place you physically go to, and telecommunications must reflect this shift. Mobile services play a vital role in keeping employees connected with one another. The move to a digital first approach is inevitable for the telecommunications industry, and becoming early adopters of technologies such as eSIM with in-app provisioning will help SPs retain their competitive advantage.