Apple unveils 5G technology, but media should proceed with caution

By Mark Challinor

Media Futures Consultancy

London, United Kingdom

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We’ve all come a long way since 1985, when a UK comedian named Ernie Wise made the first “public” mobile phone call in the United Kingdom from outside the Charles Dicken’s Pub in London to Vodafone’s headquarters.

Charge forward to 1992, and the world’s first ever SMS message was sent (also in the United Kingdom). Neil Papworth was a developer for a telecom’s contractor and asked to develop a messaging service for Vodafone. The text message read “Merry Christmas” and was sent to a director at Vodafone (who was at his office Christmas party at the time).

The iPhone 12 has been released, but it has not received the accolades other Apple products have. Image courtesy of Apple Newsroom.
The iPhone 12 has been released, but it has not received the accolades other Apple products have. Image courtesy of Apple Newsroom.

By 2012, the British were sending one billion messages every month. So, it seems that the right tech can catch on like a bush fire if there is adoption and demand — and it’s widely available.

And now, here we are in the latter part of 2020. Apple has now introduced us to its new iPhone 12 smartphone range, which connects to true high-speed 5G cellular networks. When connected to a 5G network, it can download content 10 to 100 times faster than any 4G network. Wow!

So, is this the next global “wow” in mobile development? Is this time for a main adoption of faster communications with our readers in our media circles? Will our mobile marketing efforts become more appreciated and more engaging as they become more intuitive, and as we learn new things we can do — not only with speed but also with new features like easier Augmented Reality apps, better screens, and better-quality imagery? Is this an all-together better use experience?

Well, not just yet.

At the launch, CEO Tim Cook showcased many new features and explained why 5G marks a major step up in the user experience. This much-awaited introduction of the 5G iPhone came on the very day that Verizon USA expanded its 5G Ultra Wideband to more than 50 cities, more than 40 stadiums and sports arenas, and seven airports. This should start to open up 5G to more consumers — but that is still a dot on the wider landscape.

The 5G iPhone is indeed one of its most significant recent product launches. It promises to change the way we marketers can target, reach, engage, and transact with consumers. But when?

Cook said he recognised many mobile users aren’t familiar with this latest 5G technology. Verizon representatives also spoke at the launch and acknowledged the lukewarm consumer response to 5G so far, while also stating that Apple’s latest iPhones will “lead the charge of greater interest in people upgrading to the higher-speed service.”

Maybe so, but there lies the issue. The lukewarm response is not just because of a lack of knowledge but because the likes of Verizon and its competitors’ expansion of 5G services is still in its infancy.

Consumers and marketers should not expect the much faster speeds that 5G is capable of yet. It’s all more about awareness for the future than practical use now.

So, why launch now? For Apple, this next generation of iPhones is crucial for the company to re-build its sales momentum for its devices while supporting its growing “services business” (such as Apple Music streaming).

The company’s iPhone sales rose just 1.7% (to US$26.4 billion) in the second quarter of 2020 (year-on-year comparison), but that represents the slowest of all its product categories, which also, of course, includes iPads, Apple Mac computers, smart-home devices, and its wearables range.

Its services business saw 15% sales growth (to US$13.2 billion) in the same period as many people subscribed to Apple Music plus bought paid-for apps in the App Store and made a range of in-app purchases.

Apple has previously said it plans to start selling its services in a “bundle” (called Apple One). This is an attempt to raise subscription revenue, which is a current focus as it is with many media houses worldwide.

I suggest checking out the availability of 5G in your country. Aside from many parts of the Far East, where it is more developed and expanded, you might find it isn’t delivering on the promises made in iPhone 12’s advertising. It might be another year or two before it even starts to do that. That, coupled with the public awareness and understanding of 5G, might dictate a cautious approach with your mobile marketing efforts and those of your advertisers.

It’s also worth mentioning while we are discussing mobile and Apple that, it seems to me, the greatest effect Apple will have on media and mobile marketers anytime soon will come via its software iterations that run iPhones, iPads, and Apple TV.

This is something you need to know about. In 2021, Apple’s iOS14 will require any apps to expressly obtain permission to track users with its previously, much publicised identifier for advertisers (IDFA), a code Apple gives to its devices. That IDFA, which users can already block via the settings in their devices, helps marketers track user behaviour and activities as well as improve ad targeting.

But with this scheduled change, a pop-up will start to appear that gives the user a choice to either stop (or not) their device tracking after they download or update an app. Because many users aren’t likely to allow any app tracking expressly given the choice, the targeting of mobile ads will more difficult for marketers.

This is a challenge for us all in the year ahead.

About Mark Challinor

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