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Luxury vs ubiquity: The future of the online education landscape

Luxury vs ubiquity: The future of the online education landscape

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In September 2017, tech giant, Apple announced the arrival of two new iPhone models, the iPhone 8 and the iPhone X. These new models were speculated to enter the US market with a price tag of about $1 000.00 (about R13 000.00, but this will be much, much higher once they reach South African shores). With this astronomical price tag, some are calling it the first “luxury” smartphone (Danziger 2017). Questions as to whether it is worth that price tag can only be speculative – no one owns one yet – but it’s interesting as it once again raises some interesting issues surrounding access, financial prosperity and online education in a broadening market of devices.

Access to the Internet

Just owning a smartphone increases the chance of living a better life.

Apple’s installation of a luxury ceiling in the smartphone market is a far cry from the view of what smartphones have become – an indispensable tool in our lives for communicating on all levels (Dreyfuss 2017). Smartphones have become the modern source to ‘economic mobility and – their absence – inequality’ (Chike Aguh Dreyfuss 2017).

Just owning a smartphone increases your chances of living a better life (and adjacent to that access to the Internet was declared a Human Right by the United Nations, which demonstrates what an area of contention connectivity is). With your smartphone, you can access the Internet, communicate with others, study, run a business and generally gain access to various online opportunities. You might even be reading this article on your smartphone.

So, if smartphones are devices enabling our economic survival, where do luxury smartphones fit into our lives then? The answer is: it doesn’t have that much to do with Apple. For example, we all share the Human Right to have access to water. It doesn’t mean that we all have the right to marble and gold-plated bathrooms. And Apple has produced exactly that, a smartphone with some marble and gold-plating; a luxury product – one that most of us will struggle to afford or justify in our budgets.

Access to affordable smart devices

With over half of South Africa’s population living under the poverty line and fighting data costs, can luxury smartphones really impact the local market? My feeling is that it won’t. Even in wealthier regions such as North America and Europe, I predict luxury smartphones would struggle to impact the market. There are just too many affordable smartphones out on the market.

Just a quick search on Takealot demonstrates a widening market of affordable smartphones, starting from around R500 (approximately $35 or £26). Companies like Huawei and Samsung have already created traction by offering affordable smartphones.

Access to education

More affordable smartphones are great news for online education. With the advent of Industry 4.0, one of the emerging trends in online education is decentralised access to knowledge and information. That means a growing number of people accessing the Internet through their smartphones and smart devices will be able to direct their own formal and informal learning journeys.
Other platforms could then also be made available: augmented reality and mobile virtual reality are both exciting ways of interaction that challenge the way we’ve used our smartphones up until now. More immersive and pragmatic methods of closing the gap between theory and practice could be accessed. Without threatening structures of accreditation, training could happen far away from the traditional centres of learning, out in the field where it matters most.


Danziger, P. M. 2017. Can Apple Break the Luxury Glass Ceiling with a $1,000 iPhone? Forbes
SA’s Competition Watchdog Probes High Data Costs. 2017
Human Rights Council. Promotion and protection of all human rights, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development. 2016

Author: Simon Pienaar

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