The ‘No Mobile World Congress’ Predictions For 2021

What lies ahead for mobile in 2021? In a normal year, there would be an easy way to find out. Fly to Barcelona, wander around Mobile World Congress and see for yourself.

But there is no MWC. Well, not in its usual slot at least. It has been nudged to June. So instead, let the Calldorado blog be your virtual guide to the trends of 2021. It will be cheaper. And your feet won’t hurt.

Better rev shares for smaller app developers?

2020 saw Epic Games take on Apple and Google over revenue shares. Is 30 percent fair? Well, Apple certainly made the situation more interesting by announcing that smaller developers (who earn up to $1 million in revenue a year) can pay 15 percent instead.

So Calldorado developers will be keen to know: what about Android? History shows that Google often follows Apple’s example. In 2017, when Apple reduced fees on subscriptions to 15 percent, Google quickly matched it. Let’s hope it does again. What a difference it would make for thousands of developers.

Alternative to Android?

18 months ago the tension between the US and China spilled into the mobile space. Google acted and Huawei was prevented from preloading new release phones with Google apps such as Maps, YouTube, and Google Play.

In response, Huawei built its own store, Huawei AppGallery. It also started work on an alternative to Android: HarmonyOS. The first HarmonyOS devices should ship this year. But there’s a possibility they might not only be Huawei phones. Just weeks ago Huawei suggested that other Chinese handset manufacturers will be able to use HarmonyOS as well. Will they want to?

Android 12 is coming. The rumors have started…

If Google hadn’t abandoned its dessert names for Android, we’d be up to ‘S’ this year. Soufflé? Syllabub? Sherbet? We’ll never know. Instead, we will have Android 12. And already the rumors are flying about what will be in it.

Speculation so far has centered on a few key changes: better split-screen multitasking; wifi password sharing with other Android users; ‘hibernating’ unused apps; a restricted networking mode. There’s a good round-up of the rumors here

Nothing to see here: the invisible selfie camera

There’s not much innovation in phone design these days. The main focus seems to be taking things away – buttons, bezels, headphone input – rather than adding them. The newest obsession is burying the camera under the screen, so we can get rid of ugly lenses.

Last year, the first phone dropped: AXON 5G by ZTE. Its camera is a waterdrop notch hidden beneath a group of translucent pixels. Unsurprisingly, the other big phone makers are all said to be working on similar models now.

Around the bend? Make or break for folding phones

Foldable phones were the talk of 2019. The next big bendy thing. Well, they’re not are they? Seeing one ‘in the wild’ is still a rare sight despite the efforts of Samsung, Huawei, and Motorola. Nevertheless, the OEMs are keeping the faith. There will be more foldables in 2021. We’ll see if consumers embrace them – or whether they will go the way of curved screens and other failed experiments.

5G: sneaking into the mainstream

It’s no longer true to say that 5G is coming. It’s already here. 113 mobile operators have launched 5G networks in 48 countries. And some are making big gains already. China Mobile and China Telecom closed 2020 with a combined 251.5 million 5G subscribers. However, in most markets, 5G is still in ‘early adopter’ mode.

This should change in 2021. There will be more networks launched, and more handsets capable of connecting to them. TrendForce estimates 37 percent of new devices will support 5G in 2020. And they include the iPhone 12.

Of course, 5G is not just a slightly faster version of 4G. It’s a quantum leap in multiple areas: 5G networks can transfer data at 20 gigabits per second, support latency at just one millisecond, and connect one million devices per 1 Km2 – that’s 1,000x more than is feasible on 4G.

All these elements make other data-hungry things possible – like cloud gaming, telemedicine, VR, and so on.

It’s not personal: what’s next for the mobile ad space?

2021 could herald a turning point for mobile ad platforms. As we stated in our review of 2020, Apple is set to make it’s advertiser ID opt-in only. This will make it harder for ad platforms to track users’ activity. Google hasn’t said what it will do, but observers think it is likely it will make similar changes for Android.

These changes will affect developers indirectly. It is for platforms to decide how they will adapt and what kind of ads they will inject into your apps. Maybe they will find clever ways to serve ads that are contextual and relevant but don’t breach privacy rules. Maybe it will be up to developers to persuade users to opt in. Any ideas?

Google is getting serious about mobile wallets

For many years now, some experts have predicted that the big tech giants would try to take over banking. They’ve captured many other areas. Why not finance? But it hasn’t really worked out that way. Google Pay and Apple Pay are not revolutionary. They just move your bank card from plastic to app. They don’t change anything fundamental.

That said, there are signs that Google is upping its game a little. Last year, it re-launched its Google Pay app to be much more than just a virtual debit card. The new app lets you look at all your past transactions, find offers, and organize your finances more easily. Google says: “Instead of showing a stack of cards or a long list of transactions, the new Google Pay app focuses on the friends and businesses you transact with most frequently.”

But even more interesting is Plex. This is a new kind of bank account. It’s offered by your regular bank but lives inside the Google Pay app. Plex offers smaller banks instant digital banking that’s really well-designed – but they still get to keep their customers. Google gets more loyalty, and presumably some useful data.

Google wants to make more money from subscriptions

What with all the pressure on digital advertising, some commentators are predicting a bigger focus from Google on paid-for services. This might seem like a revolutionary idea. After all, Google is built on free services funded by ads: Gmail, search, docs, etc.

That said, it is undeniable that Google is diversifying into premium. It started selling physical products some time ago (Pixel phones, Nest, smart speakers). It launched a YouTube subscription channel.

Last November, Google announced the end of free unlimited photo and video storage. Go over 15GB and you have to pay. The move was designed to encourage people to sign up for a Google One subscription plan.

It’s hard enough to make predictions in ‘normal’ times. But in a pandemic? Even more difficult. That said, the app economy is booming so we should stay positive. Maybe we can even dream of Barcelona in the summer…

Tim Green

Tim Green

Journalist

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