May 14, 2014

Q&A with Michael Björn, head of research, Ericsson ConsumerLab

Posted by: in North America

In his role at Ericsson—the Stockholm-based provider of communications technology and services—Michael Björn studies global consumer trends, as well as the process of assimilating this technology into consumers’ lives. We talked to Björn while researching our new mobile trends report, discussing some of the consumer-driven trends that Ericsson outlines in its 2014 forecast and how fast change is happening in the mobile sphere.

It seems that mobile is starting to rewire the consumer’s brain or cause a major shift in mindset—do you think we’re entering a new phase in this regard?

We are very much in a phase where people are changing their view on how to use the Internet. We had one trend last year that we call “computing for a scattered mind.” The point was that our ways of using computing devices are extremely different these days. Everything we’ve done with computers in the past has been built on an idea of, you sit down and you’re task oriented. Whereas, smartphones and tablets and so on, they are adapted to a lifestyle where we do all our computing needs while doing something else. The important computing we actually perform as individuals, it happens while you’re waiting to pay for your groceries or while you’re on the bus or you’re doing other things in life, and that’s where all the computing power happens.

One of your trends for this year is “Apps change society.” Can you describe what you mean by that?

We went to 27 major cities in the world, and we asked people what they thought was really positive about living in those cities and also what’s really negative. We realized that a lot of people saw that ICT [information and communications technology] could probably help them to increase satisfaction with things they thought were already good but also to remove some of the frustration with things they thought were really bad—such as the traffic situation or child and elder care and such areas.

So we realized what’s happening now is that the expectation in more consumers is that the positive experiences they’ve had with apps is going to continue into all sectors of society and all walks of life. The expectation is that this will happen very quickly. 

There are many sectors in society that you don’t really have all of that [app utility], if you think about elder care or child care or communication with authorities or stuff like that. There’s many areas where this is not really happening at the pace that people are expecting. So we’re seeing a lot of demand-driven thinking from consumers rather than just the pure technology push. 

Another big mobile trend is that a lot of content consumption has moved to mobile, especially video viewing. Your trend report for this year included “Play, pause, resume elsewhere,” looking at how consumers are switching devices to suit their location.

This new mobile content consumption is happening across devices and very much, of course, in mobile situations; kind of in the “scattered mind” situation. You’re doing a lot of things, but then you also want to watch a bit of video while you have a few minutes. And you pause it and you do something else maybe and you move to a different situation and you continue watching it there.

Your report also found that people see the benefits of connectivity as outweighing the concerns. But do you think people are getting anxious about the privacy and security of their mobile devices?  

We haven’t really seen any sort of division between mobile devices versus other types of devices. We do see that people have reasonably high concerns. But at the same time they realize there is a lot of benefit in using the Internet, of course. So even though people have high concerns about some of these issues, very few say this would actually cause them to use the Internet less.

We’ve asked people, for example, if they would be concerned if email apps targeted advertising toward you. People say they would be concerned, but in reality this has been available for a long time. So on the one hand people say, yes, that would be a concern. On the other hand, they don’t really seem to notice it when they are using email, for example. So one of the things we have talked about is that people don’t really connect all those thoughts very clearly.

Another new topic this year is wearables. Do you think we’ll see a lot more consumer interest or do you think they need to evolve a bit before most people get interested?

What’s interesting with the wearables right now is that the interest levels are very high at the moment. I think it goes back to this idea that people are realizing you can download an app and do things because the smartphone has a couple of sensors that you can do things with. For example, all of a sudden it becomes a pedometer without you having to think about it.

So the question is then, Will there be products that actually can live up to those expectations or not? Right now this interest is there as an extension of the overall interest in smartphones too, which will hold on for a time, but eventually, of course, if nothing new comes along that’s really grabbing attention, maybe that can change.

This whole industry [of wearables] is only beginning. But normally you wouldn’t see this very strong consumer interest around something that hasn’t really gotten to market yet. There’s a couple of products out there. But what’s surprising to me is the big interest comes before the big product are really mainstream in the market.

We even asked about a ring—maybe there is some ring out there, but we tried to use fictitious products to see what the response would be, and people are quite interested in that as well.

Another big topic this year has been WhatsApp and the messaging apps. There are so many social tools on mobile, a bit different from what we have on a desktop. Have you done any research around that topic?

There are two aspects. The social connection has been important for quite some time. This year we look specifically at video, but we can see the same things for other types of media—it’s the fact that there are fewer people that are the recommenders of things in your social network. A lot of people say they have been recommended to watch things or read things or look at pictures or whatever. But always around half only are saying they themselves are actively recommending to other people.

So of course the whole media landscape is changing. And a lot of that goes on on mobile, of course, because mobile is a very heavily used media consumption device.

The other aspect is, we looked at the overall messaging situation. We still see that there’s an overall rise of total communication volume. So yes, all of these mobile messaging apps and channels are becoming very important, but at the same time, what people seem to be doing is  increasing the overall volume of communication they do. And partly this is because of, of course, the proximity of your mobile phone. You can easily respond to a couple more messages than you could in the past, when you had to find a computer to do some of that communication.

It seems like people are continuously in touch throughout the day, especially when you look at the volume of messages.

That brings us back to the importance of the social dimension for a lot of other activities we do in everyday life, not the least on our overall media consumption. That would be heavily influenced with our constant keeping in touch with our social network.

And when we say social network, we have to distinguish a little bit. It’s not only Facebook and Twitter that help us maintain our social network. We use all of our communication channels to maintain this social network. When that overall volume goes up, then of course the impact on other activities will also rise.

Another theme your report covers is reducing the digital divide and the phone becoming the primary Internet device for many people, especially in the developing world.

For us who are in these markets the change will be lower than in some of the developing markets where this is of course a leapfrog effect. So if you think from a Swedish or an American perspective, if you want to launch a service in a developing market, you may have to take the product that was designed for the cutting edge of our own market, because they can skip a step.

Every year at the Mobile World Congress, the theme seems to be that change is happening so fast. Do you see substantial changes from year to year in consumer expectations and behaviors?

ConsumerLab was formed back in 1995. So we’ve been doing this type of research for quite some time. And I have been with ConsumerLab for quite a long time myself. We have had a lot of years where not a lot really happened, back in the years when mobile Internet was first launched. We spent quite a number of years with not a lot of big change in the consumer market.

It wasn’t all that many years ago when we thought the U.S. was a reasonably laggard kind of marketplace when it came to mobile phone use. For example, talking about youth culture and mobile phones in the U.S. was not very popular at all, because mobile phones were something that businesspeople were using. And this was not all that long ago, if you put it in perspective.

So I would say that during the last three to five years, the pace of change has been much, much quicker than it was the previous three to eight years. There’s probably some kind of pattern, because in the early days with the ConsumerLab work, there was a lot of change when the traditional mobile phone was spreading every quickly and SMS became the new platform for communication among young people. And now we’re back into this phase where there is a very, very fast pace of change.

I would say it’s not so much the device perspective that is the big change area. It’s actually the apps and how they’re spreading into a lot of new areas of life. You don’t think about it while you do it, but you kick up a new app and try something new and then you’re connecting yet another human activity into your Internet life. So that’s where I see the big, big change right now.

No Responses to "Q&A with Michael Björn, head of research, Ericsson ConsumerLab"

Comment Form

SIGN UP FOR OUR WEEKLY EMAIL NEWSLETTER:

New: The Future 100

The Future of Payments & Currency

JWT AnxietyIndex

Things to Watch

  • Tears become… streams become…
    December 17, 2014 | 1:50 pm

    Artists and performers are increasingly creating multisensory pieces that immerse and envelope audiences, who in turn are embracing these one-of-a-kind experiences. In New York, the latest example is the performance and installation tears become… streams become…, a “field of water that harnesses light, reflection, music and sound” by Scottish artist Douglas Gordon and French pianist Hélène Grimaud.

    Continue reading “Tears become… streams become…” »

  • The Glade Boutique
    December 11, 2014 | 5:16 pm

    More marketers across the spectrum are creating novel pop-ups and activities that add dimension to the brand and satisfy consumer interest in experiences. These experiences are also increasingly interactive, immersive and multisensory, as our past trend reports have discussed. In line with these trends, a Glade Boutique holiday pop-up in New York City’s Meatpacking district, created with fashion designer Pamela Dennis and interior designer Stephanie Goto, features five rooms themed around “scent-inspired feelings,” like relaxation and “energized” (complete with an Oculus Rift virtual thrill ride).

    The pop-up is a departure for the mass-market candle brand: It has no outside signage, just a keyhole with a neon sign asking, “What will you feel?” Inside, with white walls and polished concrete floors, there’s all the cues of a groovy concept store. Visitors walk past a terrarium to the “Feelings Lounge”—sofas arranged around an objet-bedecked coffee table—then find the new collection of candles covered in bell jars for sampling the scents, akin to the merchandising format of ultra-luxe candle brand Cire Trudon. There’s also a backlit installation made up of hundreds of Glade candles.

  • Cheap-phone wars
    December 3, 2014 | 11:54 am

    Obi Mobiles

    Mobile brands are creating cheaper, stripped-down smartphones for emerging markets, competing with domestic brands producing their own low-cost phones. The field is getting more competitive with Obi Mobiles from former Apple CEO John Sculley, which targets young, image-conscious consumers. Obi launched recently in India, the Middle East and Singapore, and plans for further expansion in 2015.

    Obi will be taking on Chinese up-and-comer Xiaomi, which is entering five new markets this year. Meanwhile, Google launched the Android One OS in India last month in tandem with several domestic brands, which are pricing the phones at around $100. Prices will get lower still, at least for the most basic smartphones: Mozilla has announced plans to sell phones that use its Firefox OS in India and Africa for just $25. —Marian Berelowitz

    Image credit: Obi Mobiles

  • Snapcash
    November 19, 2014 | 4:54 pm


    Disruption in the payments sphere is opening the way for social media brands to act as intermediaries between consumers and their money, as we note in our report on payments and currency. Facebook is said to be planning a P2P payments feature for Messenger, South Korea’s KakaoTalk announced a PayPal-like service in September, and Line is creating a mobile service that will let users make on- and offline purchases. Now, Snapchat is partnering with Square to enable payments between users, as explained in this video’s energetic retro musical number.

    After users (U.S. only and 18-plus only) enter debit card info, they simply send a cash amount within a text. While Snapchat’s recent data breaches may give some users pause, the P2P payments space is a smart place to be as young consumers get accustomed to services like Venmo that make it easy and even fun to pay friends. —Marian Berelowitz

  • Payment in a heartbeat
    November 11, 2014 | 5:26 pm

    Nymi-paywith

    Our recent report on the future of payments and currency spotlights the rise of biometric payments—using a unique physical characteristic to authenticate transactions—which promise to greatly improve security and help remove friction. So far we’ve seen systems that rely on fingerprints (e.g., Apple Pay) and the palm’s unique vein payment (see Quixter). Now, the startup Bionym is exploring ways to harness its Nymi wristband, which uses the wearer’s unique cardiac rhythm as authentication, for payments.

    Bionym is linking with MasterCard and the Royal Bank of Canada for a test in which an NFC chip in the wristband enables contactless payments. The company, which is looking to license its technology into other wearables, recently raised $14 million in a Series A funding round and has racked up 10,000 preorders for the Nymi. —Marian Berelowitz

    Image credit: Nymi

  • Vegetable co-stars
    November 4, 2014 | 6:31 pm

    veggies_4

    “Vegetable co-stars” is one of our 100 Things to Watch in 2014—the idea that veggies are gaining a higher profile on restaurant menus—and more star chefs are indeed embracing this trend. José Andrés and his ThinkFood restaurant group plan to open Beefsteak (as in tomatoes), a vegetable-focused fast casual eatery in Washington, D.C., next year. The Washington Post also points to chef Roy Choi’s new greenhouse-like Commissary in L.A., which says it serves “good food and drink based around plants as the foundation.”

    “Chefs around the country, and the globe, are pushing meat from the center of the plate—and sometimes off it altogether,” notes The Wall Street Journal, citing examples like Alain Ducasse revamping his menu at the posh Plaza Athénée in Paris. Catering to a growing group of diners looking to eat less meat, vegetable-heavy dishes also offer new opportunities for creativity. —Marian Berelowitz

    Image credit: Plaza Athénée

  • Xiaomi zooms ahead
    October 30, 2014 | 4:44 pm

    Xiaomi, which we included on our 100 Things to Watch in 2014 list, is now the world’s third-largest smartphone maker, according to IDC’s Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker. The young company has seen triple-digit year-over-year growth in smartphone shipments, per IDC, surging ahead of both LG and Lenovo. Often described as the “Apple of China,” Xiaomi released its first phone just three years ago; its latest, Mi4, is an iPhone clone that runs on a modified version of Android.

    The company is expanding beyond China into India and Singapore, and planning to enter a slew of other growth markets, including Russia, Turkey, Brazil and Mexico. For more on whether Chinese brands can succeed on the world stage, see our report Remaking “Made in China.”Marian Berelowitz

    Image credit: Xiaomi

     

  • Money & messaging apps
    October 23, 2014 | 11:13 am

    LINE_icon02

    Given the primary function of mobile messaging apps and their technical capabilities, money transfer and payments are an alluring proposition, as outlined in our new report on payments and currency. Snapchat filed two trademarks in July that indicate a potential move into peer-to-peer payments. The recently announced Line Pay will let Line users make purchases through their Line accounts, send funds to each other, and split costs using a “Dutch Pay” feature. Line Pay will launch in Japan and, as Tech in Asia reports, serve as “an entrance to new industries” thanks to integration with the new Line Taxi service and Line Wow, for food delivery. In South Korea, KakaoTalk launched the PayPal-like Kakao Pay in September, and a remittance service, Bank Wallet Kakao, is in the works. —Marian Berelowitz

    Image credit: Line

  • The #TimsDark Experiment
    October 14, 2014 | 3:46 pm

    To entice customers into tasting its new dark roast, Canadian fast food chain Tim Hortons, with the help of JWT Canada, created a surprise immersive experience. A store in Quebec was wrapped in material that blocked all light from the outdoors. Patrons entered warily and, once inside, heard a staff member (who was wearing night vision goggles) guiding them through the dark. At the counter, customers were handed a cup of the dark roast—the brand’s first new blend in 50 years—with the darkness heightening their sense of taste. When the lights came on, the patrons saw they were on camera.

    The #TimsDark Experiment has garnered YouTube views and some press attention, and shows how creatively imagined immersive experiences—one of our 10 Trends for 2014—can encourage consumers to engage with a brand.

  • Bitcoin bank Circle
    October 7, 2014 | 4:40 pm

    Circle

    In late September, the startup Circle launched a web app that effectively functions as a bitcoin bank. Using a debit card or bank account, users transfer funds to Circle, which converts the money to bitcoin at no fee. Circle also insures this money at no cost. The company aims to make bitcoin more accessible via consumer-friendly design and is aiming to take on traditional banks and companies like PayPal, as The Guardian reports. Next up: Android and iOS Circle apps.

    Circle co-founder Jeremy Allaire gave a keynote at the Inside Bitcoins conference in April, citing the need for a “killer app” to bring bitcoin into the mainstream. Now Circle seems to be taking the lead, and others are sure to follow. —Nick Ayala

    Image credit: Circle

  • RSSArchive for Things to Watch »