The human being has long ceased to be completely alone. Beyond our need to live with other humans, today, we can affirm that we spend 24 hours a day accompanied, even in solitude. It won’t cost you much to guess that who accompanies us everywhere are not other homo sapiens, but rather, a piece of technology created by ourselves and that we cannot separate from. Telephones, mobile devices, wereables and AI devices, have become almost a primary need for us, at least, to get closer to others without having to move from home.
One might wonder how much time we spend without them, how many hours of the day we keep them off or how many times we are able to leave home without them. Surely you must have noticed that although you do not use it constantly, it is always close to you: in your pocket, on your bedside table, or in your hand, to such an extent that it seems to be an extension of yourself.
This close relationship between us and our phones has been increasing in the last ten years. We can make a little reflection and think about how our technological life was just over a decade ago. The first iPhone and Android devices had just broken into the market (in 2007 and 2008, respectively), and BlackBerry was “sticking” it with its 8520 model, with which everyone managed, despite its tiny keys.
But, let’s take a look at the smartphone market at that time. Exactly 10 years ago, almost one tenth of the phones that are being sold now were sold back then. And not only that, in Spain, we have reached the point where existing mobile lines exceed the population: there are eight million mobile lines more than inhabitants in our country.
Ten years later: more phones and more intelligence
After looking back, you may wonder how our inseparable pocket mate has changed in all this time. In this decade surely your smartphone has become your faithful friend. In fact, this has been the case for a large part of the Spanish people: there is a 96% adult population that uses mobile phones and 87% of them are smartphones. Figures that also exceed the use of television and computers.
In addition to winning a new friend, it has also become inseparable to you. To such an extent that I’m sure you don’t keep track of all the time you spend together. Have you considered the times you unlock your phone to do a search, send a message or take a look at your community of friends on a social network (for example)? The Ditrendia report on the use of mobile phones in 2018 gives us the answer, which is rather disturbing to say the least: a third of the total Spaniards spend more than 20 hours per week browsing their mobile apps.
As expected, social networks are the apps on which we spend more time, even though WhatsApp, which does not count as a social network, but as an instant messaging application, is at the top: it is the most downloaded and used app in Spain with a 96% use. Afterwards, social media occupy the second position and Facebook, however, remains the most used social network in Spain and the one with the most users worldwide. However, let’s not forget about the fact that Instagram has doubled its users in a year and succeeds among the youngest in the population (18-34 years).
It is clear that smartphones have become much more than a device for making calls and writing messages. They connect us with our contacts wherever they might be, guide us and help us cover our daily needs (eat, dress, entertain, etc.), but what is the price to pay for having a partner who entertains and advises us indefinitely? Naturally, beyond the dependence they may cause for us to manage in our daily lives, it’s the data which they collect every second we use them, compromising our privacy as we knew it.
As if it were a toxic relationship, both parties use and manipulate each other. For us, the telephone is a tool with which we can do good and evil, but we tend to forget that it is a double-edged sword. They use us as much as we use them. Although we don’t realize, our electronic partners constantly monitor our consumption habits with every step we take.
And what does this constant monitoring end up translating to? The intelligence of the devices, increasingly advanced, has allowed us to convert our telephone routine into fresh meat for brands. It is not only about tracking our searches on Google to offer us what we are looking for. It goes much further. The apps we use are constantly following us closely.
Is my phone listening to me?
Many people wonder what happens when we give some apps permission to use our location, camera or microphone. In fact, Google Maps is able to know when you get off a bus or the subway and also shows it by asking you about how crowded your ride was. It does so in order to be even more precise when giving you traffic information, but it is inevitable to think that it has you located at all times.
Although the collection of data to provide a better service may always be the shield used by all applications, there is also a suspicion that it is being used for other purposes. Google has already admitted that it listens to 0.2% of conversations through Google Assistant and Alexa, which makes alarms go.
It is also common to find ads on social networks of products that you have talked about in a private conversation. There are many experiments that prove it, given the refusal of the apps to admit that they spy on us through the microphone.
The message you get from this is that smartphones are giving brands a golden opportunity. Evolutionary algorithms increasingly offer us the products we need most, moving away more and more from mass advertising and making a much more accurate and tailored segmentation.
Looking at it on the positive side, consumers can also win, because if something mobile devices have done in recent times is to facilitate the shopping experience: ease of payments, shipments, even to decide what we need, so they have become great allies for brands. It is clear that mobile advertising is the immediate future. Its growth is exponential, year after year. Since 2017, half of the investment in online marketing was already destined for mobile devices.
AI, present and future of retail
With this data in our hands it is not difficult to imagine that AI in all its forms, and becoming more and more intelligent, constantly works to make the shopping experience more comfortable. We are beginning to live with Big Data and AI as agents capable of anticipating the need of the user, with voice assistants as new allies to communicate with brands and provide us with a better service.
Moving along this path, in the next decade, we will attend an increasingly precise approach of AI to our needs and customs, to make our lives easier and integrate into the market around us. A path full of opportunities for brands to achieve absolute customization. A golden opportunity for the rebirth of advertising.