Early mobile phone ownership could lead to academic deficiency – study

Recent research indicates those children who own mobile phones at an earlier age will go on to perform less well academically versus their peers who do not.

The Economic and Social Research Institute of Ireland research paper, titled “Later is better: Mobile phone ownership and child academic development, evidence from a longitudinal study” was published in the journal “Economics of Innovation and New Technology” on 20 December 2018. From the outset the project had two purposes: to examine “whether there is an association between early mobile phone ownership and academic outcomes and whether delaying mobile phone ownership benefits the development of children’s academic skills.”

It used the data of 8,500 nine-year-old students in Ireland, then followed their development till they reach 13-year-old. By this time, the researchers compared the academic performance of those who already owned mobile phones when the project started with that of those who owned mobile phones later. The results showed those had mobile phones earlier fell behind their peers in both maths and reading by about a 4 percentile scale.

Therefore, to answer the first question, the researcher believed there is a negative correlation between the students’ starting age of mobile phone ownership and their academic performance when they reach adolescence. The researchers did not give a definite yes or no answer to the second question, though the title of the published report suggests they are leaning towards the Yes side, i.e. delaying mobile phone ownership would benefit the children’s academic skill development.

However, if this indeed is what the researchers believed, here is a leap of faith. To start with, the researchers claimed that “the findings suggest that there may be significant educational costs arising from early mobile phone use by children.”  The existence of a correlation does not mean there is a causal relationship. The researchers admitted that other socio-economic factors are involved in the children’s development. These factors may have been “taken account of” in the analysis, they are very hard to be controlled and a causal relationship is very hard to establish.

The researchers then went on to suggest that “parents and policymakers should consider whether the benefits of phone availability for children are sufficiently large to justify such costs.” Here is another problem. Even if there were a causal relationship between an early mobile phone ownership and impaired academic advancement, it could not lead to the logical conclusion that delayed mobile phone ownership would improve the children’s academic performance.

Thanks to its near ubiquity and the reduced age of ownership, mobile phones have become an easy target for educators as well as politicians. The researchers commended the former Irish Minister for Education and Skills, Richard Bruton, when he “asked schools to consult with parents and students to make decisions on the place of smart phones and personal devices in school.” The French President Emmanuel Macron went much further and much faster: during the election campaign he pledged an outright ban on mobile phone use in all primary and secondary schools and was supported by the legislature after he assumed the presidency. He did not hesitate to blow his own trumpet:

On the other hand, most parents and schools in Estonia and Finland do not seem to have any problems with children already having mobile phones when they start primary school at the age of seven. Various reports have indicated that not only do the majority of first graders come to school with mobile phones, many of them are actually using low-end smartphones. Incidentally these two countries have consistently outperformed any other European countries in the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) of 15-year-old students’ knowledge and skills in science, maths, and reading. So far, no researcher has attributed their strong academic performance to early mobile phone ownership.

Deloitte predicts 50k 5G smartphone in the UK by 2019-end

While the vast majority will have to wait some time before experiencing the euphoria of an extra ‘G’ Deloitte is predicting there will 50,000 early adopters in the UK.

After several years of slugging, the glorious 5G world is upon us. First in the US and South Korea, though pockets are starting to emerge everywhere else as well. San Marino is live while it won’t be long before countries like China and Japan start hitting the green button.

“The introduction of 5G handsets expected this year will look a lot like 2010, when 4G phones first entered the market,” said Dan Adams, Head of Telecommunications at Deloitte.

“There will be a lot of noise in the first year from vendors vying to be first to market, and relatively little action from consumers. We’re not talking about an overnight switch to faster connectivity with lower latency, we will see 5G used by consumers in hotspot locations in the next two to three years, with mass adoption by 2025.”

The first devices are likely to be with us in Q2, though this year’s Mobile World Congress will almost certainly be a shouting contest between the main smartphone manufacturers. It’s already rumoured Samsung will be launching a foldable-phone (albeit not 5G) prior to the event, while LG and Motorola are also in the running to produce a 5G compatible phone.

In total, Deloitte predicts roughly 20 handset brands will launch 5G-ready handsets across 2019, with shipments totalling one million. This is still a tiny fraction of the 1.5 billion smartphones which will be sold through the year, though 50,000 of them could be heading to the UK.

Looking at the networks, there might not be much to choose from across the UK. EE has confirmed it will launch 5G across 16 cities in 2019, though these will only be in the busiest locations. Vodafone will also launch this year, though it is being coy as to when. Three is telling the same story, while O2 has confirmed its customers will have to wait until 2020. One thing is clear, these will be incredibly limited deployments and it will be years until coverage reaches what the demanding user would consider adequate.

Whether this justifies the hype, or the extortionate amount handset manufacturers will inevitably charge the glory-seekers for the new devices, we’ll leave you to decide, but it will take years for the devices to be considered mainstream. Deloitte expects worldwide 5G smartphone sales to represent 1% of the total smartphone sales by the end of 2020, with 2-3 million Brits getting their hands on the devices. As Adams points out above, 2025 is when the team expect 5G devices to hit mass adoption.

Another interesting growth area the Deloitte team is keeping an eye on is the smart speakers segment.

“Smart speaker adoption has seen phenomenal growth in recent years,” said Paul Lee, Global Head of Research for TMT at Deloitte

“With improvements continuing to be made, demand for smart speakers could be in the many billions of units, possibly even higher than for smartphones. In the future, smart speakers have the potential to be installed in every room in a house, hotel, office, school and even beside every hospital bed.”

Smart speakers are the flashy product which will attract a lot of the consumer market, but the power of the virtual assistants is what could take the segment to the next level. We’ve long anticipated the breakthrough of artificial intelligence in the workplace, but perhaps the slightly sluggish resistance has been down to the delivery model of the applications.

Should smart speakers be adopted in hotel rooms, hospitals and offices in the way which Deloitte anticipates, the world is opened up for industry specific applications of virtual assistants. One area which might help this adoption is the price point.

While smart speakers were initially an expensive appliance for the home, the normalisation of the product in the eyes of the consumer has peaked the interest of traditional consumer electronics manufacturers. With more manufacturers, including those with the ability to produce goods at greater scale, entering the fray competition will increase, bringing prices down, while advertising will also grow, fuelling interest in the bellies of the consumer.

Deloitte anticipates the marker for internet-connected speakers with integrated digital assistants will be increase to £5.6 billion in 2019, selling 164 million units at an average selling price of £34. This would represent a 63% growth rate, making smart speakers the fastest-growing connected device category worldwide, leading to an installation base of more than 250 million units by the end of the year.

This is a price point which would make enterprise adoption of the devices more interesting, and as time moves on, it will get cheaper. The increased introduction of industry-specific virtual assistant and AI applications will certainly help this segment also.

After years of promises and false-dawns, 2019 might prove to be a blockbuster year after all. There’s still a lot which could go wrong, but here’s to hoping.

As Nielsen reports shift away from cable TV Netflix announces biggest price hike

A recent Nielsen report on the evolution of US TV viewing habits reveals a 48% increase in the number of households switching entirely to over the air access.

16 million US homes – 14% of households – are now OTA-only, up from just 9% of households 8 years ago. This constituency is split into older viewers (6.6m) looking to save a few bucks by settling for the good, old broadcast antenna option, and younger SVOD (subscription video on demand) subscribers (9.4m), who get everything they need from services like Netflix and therefore see no need to pay for cable.

A significant characteristic of this latter category is a move away from the traditional TV to viewing on mobile devices. These smaller screens tend to lend themselves to solitary viewing rather than the more communal TV experience, something that is greatly facilitated by the on-demand nature of these services.

Nielsen OTA chart

Coinciding with the publication of this report is the announcement from Netflix of its biggest ever price rise in the US. The SVOD giant has been investing more than ever on original programming and has such a massive installed base that it seems to have decided it’s time to start thinking about justifying its massive valuation.

“We change pricing from time to time as we continue investing in great entertainment and improving the overall Netflix experience for the benefit of our members,” a Netflix spokesperson said in a somewhat redundant statement to Light Reading.

“For many users, Netflix is an indispensable video services,” said Tech, Media & Telco Analyst Paolo Pescatore. “There will not be much backlash (for now). This is certainly one way to increase revenue significantly. It needs to focus on financials as well as subscriber growth. Netflix is following the traditional pay TV model of increasing prices annually. Expect other countries to increase prices over coming months.”

Anecdotally linear TV viewing seems to be a dying phenomenon. Even when families congregate around the living room TV they’re just as likely to watch a DVD or streamed box set and, if this correspondent’s experience is anything to go by, people prefer to do their own thing on tablets. Netflix is currently the boss of that sector so it’s probably free to keep raising prices for a while yet.

Xiaomi unveils new strategy stressing AI, IoT and smartphones

The Chinese device maker Xiaomi has announced its new strategy will be built around two core areas: smartphone and AI+IoT.

At the company’s annual party, Lei Jun, Xiaomi’s founder and CEO, pledged an investment of CNY 10 billion ($1.5 billion) over the next five years, in a strategy it calls AIoT (meaning both “AI+IoT” and “All in IoT”). The objective is to develop this part of the business into a second core of the company’s strategy, to dovetail with its current core business: smartphones.

Xiaomi is no stranger to artificial intelligence. AI has been in the centre of Xiaomi’s marketing messages for its photo technologies on the new smartphones and the smart speakers. Nor has it been a novice in IoT. In fact, Xiaomi claims to be the world’s largest IoT company, “connecting more than 132 million smart devices (excluding mobile phones and laptops), including more than 20 million daily active devices as of September 30 (2018).” This mainly comes in its smart home category including products ranging from smart suitcases to smart scooters and everything in between.

Smartphone, on the other hand, has always been the linchpin in Xiaomi’s ecosystem. After its fast growth in China and the rapid market share gain in emerging markets like India, Xiaomi recently expanded into Europe, including choosing to debut its latest flagship smartphone in London. Additionally, Xiaomi sees in Latin America new growth opportunites. It is also one of the smartphone OEMs to endorse Qualcomm’s 5G chipset. However, as Lei recognised, “Before the proliferation of 5G technology, Xiaomi’s success in smartphone business segment lies in striving to consolidate its leading position in the smartphone markets across the world.”

As a means to continue strengthening its smartphone positions, Xiaomi also announced a dual-brand strategy. Its flagship and other high-end products will continue to come under the “Mi” brand, while the mid-range value-for-money products will carry the “Redmi” brand. Here Xiaomi may have taken a page from Huawei’s brand strategy, which has used “Honor” to address the mid-range segment while its flagship products have been branded “Huawei” and come in Mate or Pro series.

The foldable phone will reportedly be with us next month

It’s been rumoured for months and an ambition of the industry for years, but it seems Samsung is almost ready to unveil a foldable phone in a few weeks times.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Samsung is set to reveal a foldable phone at various launch events around the world on February 20, a week ahead of the industry’s annual bonanza in Barcelona. Traditionally Samsung has launched new flagship devices at Mobile World Congress, but it appears the team is determined to beat Huawei to the punch, with the Chinese also rumoured to be pretty close with their own device.

Although Samsung still claims the number one spot for smartphone sales worldwide, it must be peering over its shoulder with Huawei’s recent momentum. Having overtaken Apple to secure the number two spot, Huawei is certainly on a good run, despite political pressure and suspicion over its relationship with the Chinese government.

A prototype of the device was showcased at a series of events last September, though people familiar with the matter claim three new, foldable devices will be hitting the shelves in March. There is yet to be any form of official confirmation as of yet, though it is also believed a fourth device will follow the initial launch; this model will be 5G compatible.

There are still a lot of questions surrounding the device, but one thing is clear; this is the sort of innovation the industry has been craving for years.

When you look at the reality of smartphones, there hasn’t been any genuine disruption for years. Each new flagship brings incremental advances in features and usability, a better screen or less battery intensive applications for example, but nothing could really be described as ground-breaking, despite what the manufacturers tell you. The last genuine disruption to the smartphone space was probably Apple ditching the keyboard a decade ago.

This stumbling period of innovation is probably one of the factors which contributed to the global slump in smartphone sales in recent years. Despite a lack of new features, manufacturers have been asking consumers to produce more cash, indirectly encouraging trends which have seen product lifecycles and the popularity of second-hand or refurbished phones increase.

Whether the phone will be any good remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure, this is a device which will certainly attract attention at Mobile World Congress next month.

Apple iPhone sales plunged by 20% in November – Counterpoint

Facing more affordable competition from the Chinese brands, the iPhone’s total sales suffered a 20% decline in November, with the cheaper XR model outselling the more expensive models, according to an update from Counterpoint.

The research firm published its monthly update on iPhone sales for November, estimating that the decline was across the board. In Europe and North America, replacement cycles are getting longer while operators are reducing their subsidies, both trends playing to the decline of iPhone sales.

One exception was China, where the sales held largely thanks to the 11.11 (“Single’s Day”) sale, where all online channels would hand out discounts. However, the China market is expected to go down in December. On one hand the Single Day sales already satisfied much of the demand; on the other hand, the ongoing trade war with the US has pumped anti-American sentiment into some consumers, which Tim Cook also employed to explain away the weakness in its phone business.

When it comes to the model breakdown, Counterpoint said the best-selling model was XR, the cheapest among the three new models recently launched. More specifically, the 64GB version, the one with the smallest memory, was selling the best. This is in stark contrast to a year ago, when the best-selling model was the then newly launched iPhone X, the most expensive one in the new line-up. The research firm also concluded that when looking at the performances of the two most expensive models of the two years, the “iPhone XS Max, when compared to iPhone X during the same month last year, shows a 46% decline in sales.”

iPhone-November-Sales-2017-vs-2018

The decline should not come as a surprise though. In all markets the Chinese brands are gaining momentum, not the least in emerging markets like India, where smartphone market is still expanding. “iPhone has never achieved a significant share of the Indian market because it’s just too expensive. It rarely makes it above 1% of the overall market or 2% of the smartphone market. Recent changes to import taxes made the cost even more prohibitive. Apple has now decided to start assembling in India through Foxconn. This should help offset the import taxes it currently has to pay. This move may also be a hedge against potential damage from the ongoing China/US trade war.” Peter Richardson, research director and partner at Counterpoint told Telecoms.com. “However, while Apple’s brand is certainly well-regarded, Indian consumers have become accustomed to the quality of Chinese Android products, from players such as Xiaomi, Vivo and Oppo. It is questionable whether they will see the value in iOS relative to these Chinese players that are innovating much faster. Huawei (and Honor) has also been a marginal presence so far, but is expected to grow relatively quickly, adding to the market’s competitive landscape,” Richardson added.

Even in the more advanced markets Apple has shown weakness for a while. Earlier we reported that Apple was compensating the Japanese operators to offer discount and considering reviving iPhone X in Japan to boost sales.

Samsung imposes Facebook on its smartphone customers and blocks uninstall

Smartphone giant Samsung has apparently struck a deal with Facebook to force the installation of the app on its phones.

The move, which was highlighted by Bloomberg, is not by itself remarkable. It’s not uncommon for smartphone OEMs to partner with third parties to preinstall their stuff on phones, although push-back against ‘bloatware’ has made this less common than it once was. What is causing some degree of backlash is the fact that it’s not possible to uninstall this imposed Facebook app, only to disable it.

The Bloomberg story quotes a Facebook spokesperson as saying the disabled app is effectively uninstalled as is no longer collects data for Facebook, but if that’s the case then why prevent its removal? Samsung didn’t provide Bloomberg with any further explanation.

This correspondent can confirm that this doesn’t just apply to new phones. I recently did a factory reset of my old Samsung Galaxy S7 in order to bequeath it to my son. Once the process was complete I was surprised to see the Facebook app appear on the home screen and can confirm that I wasn’t given the option to uninstall it.

Which raises a significant issue with the imposition of social media apps on phones that other reports seem to have overlooked: mental health. In a recent appearance on the Joe Rogan podcast, social psychologist Jonathan Haidt revealed a sharp increase in reported mental health issues among US teenagers and young adults in the last decade. As you can see in the clip below he theorises that a major contributing factor to this is social media use, especially on smartphones.

Many parents, this one included, have decided that their children should not use any form of social media, including IM apps such as Whatsapp, due to the threat they pose to their mental health. Not only does social media seem likely to make children more socially obsessive, self-conscious and distracted, it also facilitates some forms of bullying and leaves a digital footprint that it seems likely their adult selves will regret.

For this reason, on top of the general arrogant presumption involved in trying to commercially manipulate your own customers, this looks like a bad move by both Samsung and Facebook. Neither of them are in the strongest position to throw their weight around these days and the smartest thing to do in the light of this revelation would be for them to reinstate the ability to uninstall the Facebook app from Samsung phones.

 

Samsung warns sales and profits are going down the toilet

Korean giant Samsung has become the latest major tech company to warn about significant under-performance towards the end of 2018.

In its earnings guidance for Q4 18 Samsung Electronics advised that it expects sales of around 59 trillion Korean won and 10.8 trillion Korean won. In the same quarter a year ago it racked up sales of 66 trillion and profits of 15 trillion, so that’s a pretty major drop-off, especially for profit, with margin dropping from 23% to 18%.

Analysts expected a bit of a drop in profit, according to Bloomberg, but only as low at 13.8 trillion. The same story points the finger at the trade aggro between the US and China as a major reason for the drop off, citing reduced demand for memory chips which are a big thing for Samsung.

Among the companies presumably buying less chips is Apple, which also issued a sales warning last week, thanks largely to smartphone demand dropping off a cliff in China. Samsung has blamed its woes on ‘mounting macro uncertainties’ affecting chip sales and good old ‘intensifying competition’ in the smartphone market.

The latter claim seems somewhat implausible in the light of Apple’s recent admission. What seems more likely is that the downward trend in smartphone demand has accelerated, compounded by the fact that neither of Apple or Samsung’s latest flagship models offered much to entice people to upgrade. Two-year-old smartphones still do a decent job so upgrade cycles are extending, which means lower sales for the foreseeable future.

Garmin has a go at reigniting smart watch enthusiasm

To date, it seems only the fitness brands can make the smart watch segment work for them, and while attention might have been diverted elsewhere recently, Garmin is having another crack.

Despite the fact revenues are increasing, shipments are increasing, and the usability of the devices are constantly improving, this segment has never really taken off. All positive steps forward have been small rather than industry shaking. Perhaps this was a product which was just ahead of its time, waiting for other technological advancements to catch up. One of these advancements is featuring prominently in the new Garmin launch.

“The vívoactive 3 Music with 4G LTE connectivity gives you everything you need from your phone – safety features, text messaging and the ability to download and listen to music – now on your watch, so customers can leave their phones behind with confidence,” said Dan Bartel, Garmin VP of Global Consumer Sales.

“Designed for customers who lead an active lifestyle, we’re excited to introduce these new safety and communication features to the Verizon-connected vívoactive 3 Music to give added peace of mind on the go, so leaving your phone at home can be a choice instead of a cause for panic.”

This new device, the vívoactive 3 Music, will be priced at $299.99 (the north-end of affordability for mass market) and will run on Verizon’s 4G network. The device will feature the same fitness and tracking capabilities as previous generations, as well as a contactless payment solution enabled by FitPay and the ability to download playlists from from third-party music services like Deezer and Spotify. Battery life is up to five days in smart watch mode or four hours when running the GPS.

While it has now been addressed, standalone connectivity was the first barrier to adoption for the smart watch segment. Why would you bother having a smart watch when you had to carry your phone around with you? It tells you the time, so does your phone. It plays music, so does your phone. It took phone calls and replied to messages, so does your phone. If the watch is tethered to your phone, what was the point in it?

In years gone, the fitness niche found success. Fitness tracking, both geographical and health monitoring, was an area of success allowing companies such as Garmin and Fitbit to make profits while others who focused on communications features or attempting to appeal to the fashion conscious struggled to make any notable progress. What Garmin and Fitbit did was not to compete with traditional watchmakers or smartphone manufacturers but create an additional segment. It might have been niche but has been growing steadily over the last couple of years, alongside the much slower (but increasingly more prominent) mass market acceptance of smart watches on the whole.

When you look at the smart watch segment, there certainly has been growth. IDC forecast the worldwide wearables market to ship 122.6 million units in 2018, up 6.2% from the 115.4 million units in 2017, and estimates growth in this segment to hit total shipment volumes of 190.4 million units by 2022. While this is progress, these are not revolutionary sales numbers or even growth which suggests the segment is about to take off.

Nowadays standalone connectivity is not a new thing, however Garmin has an established (and successful) brand in the smart watch segment, as well as a loyal customer base to push the new features onto. Whether this is enough of a pull to take smart watches to the next level remains to be seen, but if experience is anything to go by, the niche players will certainly help validate the smart watch in today’s society.

Samsung reckons its new smartphone UI is more intuitive than ever

The latest user interface for Samsung smartphones – One UI – tries to account for larger screens while avoiding excessive clutter.

“These days, our smartphones are so much more than phones,” opens the press release, apparently hoping to convey Samsung’s profound understanding of the current smartphone situation. All this extra functionality, we’re told, has caused many UIs to become cluttered. This is not a trap Samsung is about to fall into anytime soon.

“Samsung’s One UI is the company’s most simple and streamlined UI yet, built from the ground up to help users focus on what matters most,” effuses the release. “One UI’s intuitive design fosters convenient interactions, while its clean aesthetic minimizes clutter to make viewing your screen more comfortable.”

One fairly sensible innovation is to force most of the stuff you might need to interact with towards the bottom of the screen, where the average thumb has a better chance of reaching it. Now that smartphone screen sizes in excess of six inches have become commonplace, superhuman feats of manual yoga are often required to interact with them, which can be trying.

Somewhat less welcome is the apparent aim of presuming how much of a given app the user might want to see at a given moment. In order to do this “One UI keeps things simple, displaying only the functions and info the user needs to complete their task.” This seems pretty presumptuous and an example of a company overstepping the mark in its desperation to innovate and appear to be useful.

Xdadevelopers had a good play with One UI recently and concluded little more than grudging acceptance of its inevitability, given the evolution of the smartphone form factor. Custom UIs are a delicate balance as they present one of the few ways for an Android OEM to appear to innovate, but a bad one can drive users away. Samsung seems to have struck an OK balance here, without setting the world on fire.