How technology changes – and how we make it so
Technology is a two-way street. It shapes how we act and what we come to expect, and this in turn shapes it.
Back in the day, when we shopped at the local butcher or baker, it was normal for business owners to respond to clients’ requests and needs. Enter retail chains and corporates, and suddenly customers pretty much had to take what they were given.
Now, technology has tipped the scales in our favour again. While we may not be able to visit the butcher to explain exactly which cuts we’d like, we are in the driver’s seat to an extent, thanks to online companies such as Uber and Airbnb that have changed the way we travel forever.
The battle of the acronyms
While we wait for mobile data prices to fall further, those with access to fibre internet (which is becoming ever more prevalent) are benefiting from a slew of acronym-laden consumer technologies, among them augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), artificial intelligence (AI) and video on-demand (VOD).
Let’s start with the last of these: VOD. The video-streaming market continues to grow. For consumers, the problem will remain fragmentation, however; the odds of ever being able to receive all the content from one provider are slim and becoming slimmer. Although we are still expected to pay recurring subscription fees, content providers are increasingly creating their own material (think Netflix’s original series) in an effort to win customers’ loyalty.
‘I used to imagine other ways I could visit my girlfriend without travelling – those daydreams eventually became the basis for Zoom.’ - Eric Yuan, founder and chief executive of Zoom
In addition, we have far more choice available – Netflix, Amazon Prime, Showmax and recently Apple TV. Meanwhile, AR and VR has moved from ‘something gamers use’ to something we all use.
With an increasing number of people shopping online, Apple’s ARKit has tools for mapping out your living room and seeing what a new couch might look like in that awkward corner – by pointing your phone at it in real time.
Clothing retailers may also use AR and VR to allow shoppers to digitally ‘try on’ clothes in their stores or in apps.
Samsung’s phone-based VR headsets are becoming more affordable, and high-end VR solutions, such as HTC’s Vive, are now available in South Africa.
The demand for on-demand isn’t going anywhere
Rivals such as Bolt (previously known as Taxify) are slowly taking on transportation company Uber, and since ‘the original’ app taxi service’s arrival in 2014, many others have been Uber-ised, too.
In other service industries, South African companies SweepSouth and Domestly offer vetted cleaners from the comfort and security of an app. Namola, on the other hand, connects app users with the relevant emergency services.
The new norm
Since the Covid-19 pandemic hit, virtual meetings have become the new norm. Video-calling platforms, such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams, have made it even easier for people to connect without leaving their homes.
Eric Yuan, founder and chief executive of Zoom, first dreamed up the idea for video-conferencing while he was studying in the 1990s. He’d have to take a 10-hour train trip to see his then-girlfriend, who is now his wife.
‘I detested those rides,’ he told Thrive Global. ‘I used to imagine other ways I could visit my girlfriend without travelling – those daydreams eventually became the basis for Zoom.’
Business Insider reports that apps like Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Houseparty have seen spikes in downloads as they have become essential to daily life – whether it’s for a board meeting, school or a catch-up with family and friends. According to SensorTower’s analytics, some of these apps had downloads increase by more than 1 000% between February and March 2020.