The virtual network has been through many phases in an alarmingly short life-span. It’s been a while since mobile internet became more or less the norm, but desktop devices, mainly personal computers, are still an important starting point for many. The thing is that, with time, there will be less and less of those.
The first billion internet users started connecting through PCs, the first devices to really take the internet to a massive scale. But as the smartphone grew in power, most of us started making our online consumption on mobile platforms.
There’s nothing revelatory about that statement, but the difference now is that a new wave of users will come online first on their smartphones, with PCs and other stationary devices being used for specific purposes, whether that means working from desktop or playing videogames on a console.
Caesar Sengupta, VP of Google’s Next Billion Users team, has laid out his thoughts on the matter. According to him, developing countries will especially work this way, where access to dedicated computers can still be a little prohibitive, but owning a smartphone is the common norm.
Mobile platforms have democratized the internet. There’s no question about it
“The future of the internet is in the hands of the next billion users—the latest generation of internet users to come online on smartphones in places like Brazil, China, India, Indonesia and Nigeria,” he explains. “As time goes on, the average internet user will be more like these ‘next billion users’ than the first billion who started on PCs.”
3 billion people own smartphones today, and more than half of those live in Asia. That’s why Sengupta argues that places like Bangalore, Shanghai and Sao Paolo in South America will tell us where the internet is going. In contrast, privileged places like London or Silicon Valley itself won’t be good indicators, as they are already connected through multiple channels.
As a result, it’s not just the way we access the internet that’s going to change permanently, but the internet itself will also evolve to accommodate for that new mobile-only audience. He identifies three changes: a mobile-only mindset, an instinct for ubiquitous computing, and a demand for localized content.
The first one explains itself, and it’s process already in progress, if not basically completed: several apps and website are already designed specifically for mobile, or work better there (think Instagram, Twitter, YouTube). We now expect everything online-oriented to work on mobile.
The second one we’re just barely scratching: having natural interactions with programs online. AI and machine learning will be a strong driver in that direction, and that’s where we’re inevitably headed, with software like Alexa, Google Assistant and a smarter Google search.
Last, but not least, Sengupta predicts that English’s dominance online will be challenged with the increase of local-made content. “There are estimates that web content is more than 50 percent English. Hindi, the #4 language in terms of global speakers, is not even in the top 30 languages for web content.”
The thing that will break that hegemony will be video. Everyone can grab a smartphone and start recording content, he explains, so local languages will be more common in the future. It’s a trend that has already started, with YouTube being the obvious channel for that transformation.
Mobile platforms have democratized the internet. There’s no question about it. People who weren’t online before because of some limitation are now connected.
And it’s not just a matter of convenience: it’s also about accessibility and lesser costs. Less tech-savvy folks are more prone to use a smartphone. The same goes for people on a budget. Mobile hasn’t just changed our habits, it has opened the way to new users.