6 January 2020
5G will drive many tech innovations as powerful wireless networks will enable the transfer of large volumes of data much faster. Photo: Bloomberg
5G will drive many tech innovations as powerful wireless networks will enable the transfer of large volumes of data much faster. Photo: Bloomberg

What to expect from the tech sector in 2020

Ushering in 2020, it’s time to make some predictions as to what lies in store for us from the all-important technology sector in the year ahead.

One big underlying theme, most analysts agree, will be 5G, as the advanced high-speed networks get rolled out in many parts of the world. Also, artificial intelligence will come into play even more, becoming a part of people’s daily lives as global tech giants step up focus on machine learning.

The smartphone wars will enter a new phase as players tweak their marketing strategies amid the Sino-US trade and tariffs battle. Apple will need to keep an eye on the political and diplomatic games between Washington and Beijing, while Chinese phone makers may find it more rewarding to focus on markets in the developing world.

Keeping our discussion limited to the smartphone segment for the moment, we can say that among all the contenders the stakes are the biggest for Huawei, as the Chinese firm seeks to overcome the impact of US trade curbs and push a goal of beating Samsung and capturing the global No. 1 spot.

Realizing the ambition in the coming one or two years, something that Huawei executives have outlined as a task, is not impossible, but the journey won’t be easy by any means.??

The Chinese telecoms equipment giant has admitted that 2020 will be a tough year as there is no sign that the US government will ease the trade ban on the company. Huawei’s rotating chairman Eric Xu said early this week that “survival” is the firm’s first priority, as sales had been affected after the firm was shut out from some Western markets.

Huawei expects its 2019 sales revenue to come in at 850 billion yuan (US$121.7 billion), up roughly 18 percent from the previous year, but significantly lower than what the company had anticipated earlier.? In January last year, Huawei flagged annual sales revenue of US$125 billion.

Huawei will face a much tougher business environment this year as it will suffer a full-year impact of the US trade ban. All the new products launched this year will have no Google Mobile Service support. The lack of Google support will dampen product prospects overseas as most users outside China rely on Google for their digital life, from Gmail to Google Maps to Google Photos.

The Chinese firm launched its own mobile service applications in a bid to fill the gap, but they won’t really be a wholesome substitute for Google’s well-established offerings. Hence, Huawei’s smartphone and tablet business will face headwinds this year outside China.

Confronted with a challenging environment, Huawei will have to devote more resources, in terms of time and money, to boost product sales so that it can narrow the gap with Samsung — the current leader in the global smartphone industry in terms of unit shipments.

That being said, the overall outlook for Huawei should not be too negative, given the brand’s growing strength in its home market. Many Chinese consumers opted for Huawei devices last year due to nationalistic sentiments amid the US clampdown on the firm. That helped Huawei boost its market share in China, taking the figure past the 40 percent level, squeezing out other local rivals.

In the coming year, Huawei is expected to launch P40 series smartphone and other 5G compatible devices. It will be interesting to see how Xu and his team manage the business outside China, especially as many overseas operators have started to distance themselves from Huawei to comply with local regulations that aim to keep perceived state-linked Chinese entities at bay.?

Despite the obstacles, Huawei will have to strive for breakthroughs in overseas markets, as increased dependence on the domestic Chinese market won’t be healthy in the long run.

Apple has lost out to Huawei for the industry No. 2 spot for two consecutive years, but the US trade ban could give the iPhone maker a chance to reclaim the position, especially as a 5G iPhone could be in the offing this year.

All said and done, the iPhone is still a unique product in the highly crowded global smartphone market, and contributes more than 60 percent to Apple’s profit. There is speculation that Apple could launch as many as six iPhone models this year, including an entry-level small screen SE successor.

Meanwhile, the company is expected to launch a 5G handset in the second half of the year, with a Qualcomm chip inside. That should trigger a new round of replacement cycle within the iPhone user base, particularly as many iPhone users are still holding iPhone 6 or 6s series gadgets.?

Another interesting thing to watch will be how Apple makes use of the 5G technology to potentially develop whole new products. In the previous decade, Apple launched iPad, Apple Watch and AirPod. Entering a new decade, Apple could focus on augmented reality to bring immersive entertainment and gaming experience to its users.

However, smartphone may not be the best device for such experience. Some?experts believe?Apple could launch an eye glass with augmented reality and wireless connectivity to enable users to?enjoy the games or movies directly through the glass with AirPod to bring a total new experience for users. The timeframe would be anyone’s guess, but we can say it could be too early for Apple to bring such new product to the market during this year.

Elsewhere, Android smartphone makers like Samsung and Xiaomi will devote resources to building a new smartphone font factor in the new decade. They are betting that foldable screen smart devices could become mainstream product in this decade. Samsung’s Galaxy Fold and Huawei Mate X proved the feasibility of such concept.

In the future, foldable screen devices could enable smartphone makers to go beyond the screen-size limitation to bring better mobile experience. But this could also blur the line between smartphone and tablet computer, as an analyst has noted.

As 5G and other emerging technologies get into our daily life, privacy activists caution that the new tech raises the risk of users’ personal data being tapped by authorities and technology firms. Amid growing concerns over data privacy, some governments have already started work on new laws and rules to monitor the use of new tech that could collect personal data through different ways.

For example, the G20 has set up a consortium to set out guidelines for members to follow when using new technology for data collection and city development. In Hong Kong, a government smart lamppost project will remove cameras and use other technology to collect necessary data without individual recognition.

The year 2020 would be an exciting period in relation to emerging technologies, but people would need stronger protections as more personal information would be collected behind the scenes, rendering the citizen a much larger part of the big data game.

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EJ Insight writer