Emerging markets fuel smart-device surge

IHS Markit researchers predict the global user base for smartphones will rise to 6 billion by 2020, up from 4 billion in 2016. Smartphone and tablet devices now comprise more than 60 percent of the smart-connected consumer device market, up from just 17 percent in 2008, IHS noted.

Several developments will likely drive mobile adoption. "Mobile innovations, new business models and mobile technologies are transforming every adjacent market as the mobile industry diversifies from the maturing smartphone market," said Ian Fogg, Director at IHS Technology. "Revenues for smartphones shipped in 2020 will total $355 billion."

IHS projected global consumer spending via mobile apps will reach $74 billion by 2020, up from $54 billion in 2016, driven by accelerated spending in such regions as Africa and the Middle East, each expected to grow at an annual rate of 18 percent through 2020.

"Latin America will see an average growth rate of 23 percent compared with the global 8 percent average annual rate," said Jack Kent, Director, Operations and Mobile Media at IHS Technology. "Africa, the Middle East and Latin America will be the fastest-growing regions in the next four years. There are many opportunities for new apps, mobile payments and mobile money services." He added that Asia will continue to dominate the global apps market, accounting for over 50 percent of consumers' spending.

Emerging market potential

According to IHS, more than 120 million active mobile money accounts were active in emerging markets in 2016. And looking ahead, the number of smartphones connected to device-based payments will nearly double, from 2.7 billion in 2016 to over 5 billion by 2020.

"Mobile payments and commerce are central to mobile innovation and will be critical for future growth," Kent said. "Mobile money services have been a vital tool for financial inclusion in emerging markets, but elsewhere, mobile money services are looking to complement or disrupt traditional payments and financial services through the launch of app-only banking services, device-based payments from services such as Apple Pay, Android Pay and Samsung Pay, and payment integration via social media and messaging apps."

Kent believes leading technology players will focus more attention on integrating payments and commerce within broader mobile platform and technology applications. "This integration across their range of devices, apps, content and services will be crucial if they want to tap into the next waves of growth," he said.

Fogg added, "Smart mobile devices will rapidly become universally adopted throughout the world, enabling innovative smart services, which will transform emerging economies. Mobile devices and services are now the hub for people's entertainment and business lives, as well as for communication. The smartphone has replaced the PC as the most important smart connected device."

Wearable mobile movement

Just as smartphones make their mark on consumerism in vast numbers globally, wearable devices are carving niches as well. The latest entrant is Singapore-based EZ-Link Pte Ltd., whose core focus until now has been Contactless ePurse Application (CEPAS)-compliant EZ-Link cards for transit riders at 30,000 transit locations. (CEPAS is the Singapore specification for electronic smart cards.)

Catering to the entertainment and health aspects of mobile technology, the EZ-Link Wearables product line, launched in January 2017, combines payment functions with lifestyle options such as fitness. For example, the Garmin vivosmart HR with EZ-Link device provides a fitness tracker and ability to pay for transit rides. The company recently teamed with Watchdata Technologies Pte Ltd. to launch the Batman v Superman Fitness X EZ-Link, which performs similar functions for fans of the movie franchise.

"Our vision for EZ-Link Wearables is to give our users new possibilities and freedom, by blending an essential part of their daily journeys – EZ-Link with different aspects of their lives," said Nicholas Lee, Chief Executive Officer at EZ-Link. "Last year we integrated a similar contactless chip into the vivosmart HR band in Taiwan, which lets users pay for train rides, bus trips and retail purchases via the i-Pass electronic wallet stored within the chip."

With mobile devices becoming more accessible in emerging markets, optimism abounds at companies like EZ-Link, which aspire to bridging all segments of transit through mobile devices, whether people are traveling by bus, train, plane or simply on foot.