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By 2018, half of all internet users will access it exclusively via a mobile device

Picture your average internet user. If you’re picturing someone behind a desktop, you’re only half right. If on the other hand, you’re picturing someone splitting their online time between a desktop, smartphone and tablet you’re probably closer to the mark, at least for the Western world. With an influx of cheap smartphones and tablets into emerging economies however, the number of people who’ll exclusively via mobile devices is set to shoot up massively.

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In fact, technology research house Gartner reckons that by as soon as 2018, half of all internet users will access the internet exclusively via a smartphone or tablet. That seems like a crazy prediction until you remember a few things. First off, the PC market is showing no signs of recovery. Second, there are already around 2-billion smartphone subscribers (out of a total 3-billion or so internet users). Right now, a fair portion of those probably have desktop users. But that’s unlikely to stay the case for much longer.

According to Gartner, 75% of smartphone buyers will pay less than US$100 for a device by 2020. That drop-off in price in turn means that 78% of global smartphone sales will come from developing economies. New buyers in these regions, says Gartner, are rapidly transitioning to utility and basic smartphones, helped by declining average selling prices. It’s forces like that, as much as growing economies that have seen some predict that Sub-Saharan Africa alone will half-billion or so smartphone subscribers by the end of the decade.

And unless, they require it for a specific task, it’s very difficult to see many of those users forking out extra for a PC, especially as peripherals that give tablets and smartphones desktop-like functionality grow cheaper alongside the devices they serve.

As feature phones decline, and data use expands in the developing economies, smartphone needs will expand, but only as prices permit. Furthermore, in the developing markets, high-end smartphone shipments are expected to slow down, as the enhanced features of those phones have less and less mainstream value to most buyers.

The other factor at work is subsidies or sponsorships that reduce the cost of the devices. As the mobile phone becomes more and more of the “on-ramp” for purchases and the mainstream method for making payments, subsidies and sponsorships should increase.

That said, Gartner does expect the pattern to be matched to some extent in developed economies. “The use pattern that has emerged for nearly all consumers, based on device accessibility, is the smartphone first as a device that is carried when mobile, followed by the tablet that is used for longer sessions, with the PC increasingly reserved for more-complex tasks,” says Van Baker, research vice president. “This behaviour will adapt to incorporate wearables as they become widely available for users. As voice, gesture and other modalities grow in popularity with consumers, and as content consumption tasks outweigh content creation tasks, this will further move users away from the PC.”

Cutting the cable

Even if you don’t find yourself working exclusively from your smartphone or tablet, though it looks like most of the devices in your office are about to become mobile, or at least a little more mobile.

According to Gartner, 40% of organisations will specify Wi-Fi as the default connection for nonmobile devices, such as desktops, desk phones, projectors, conference room by 2018.

“Ethernet cabling has been the mainstay of the business workspace connectivity since the beginning of networking. However, as smartphones, laptops, tablets and other consumer devices have multiplied, the consumer space has largely converted to a wireless-first world,” says Ken Dulaney, vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner. “As bring your own device has increased in many organisations, the collision of the business and consumer worlds has changed workers’ demands.”

As the first connection to the enterprise infrastructure, Wi-Fi brings workers the ability to choose any device and move anywhere without worry. Security measures such as 802.1X were first broadly introduced in Wi-Fi, and there have been no reports of any serious break-ins during the long history of the technology, once advanced encryption standard encryption was introduced. Furthermore, cabling systems or even peer-to-peer wireless solutions using technologies that offer cable replacement have had to deal with a variety of different connectors’ challenges, such as USB and micro-USB, as video systems move beyond video graphics array.

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