The Year Of Mobile? Sounds Like The Month Of The Smartphone

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Are smartphones now mass?

By the sounds of the MediaPost article, Santa’s Surprise: Smartphones Go Mass (published yesterday), it’s definitely moving in that direction… rapidly. This is one of those moments when the Marketing industry must give pause. We’re not going to see standard adoption here (at least, I don’t think we will). It feels more like what Ray Kurzweil defines as exponential growth (more on that here: Spirit of the Time – Ray Kurzweil at Zeitgeist Americas 2011). Mobile phones may even be going away – along with desktop computers and laptops – in favor of  smartphones and tablets. Yes, I’m bullish on this platform (I have been for over a decade), and yes, these devices are not fully there yet (in terms of being ready for real prime time), but you simply can’t deny what’s happening here: "app analytics firm Flurry says that it saw 6.8 million new iOS and Android devices activated on Christmas Day alone. The spike in newcomers represented a 353% increase over the 1.3 million to 1.8 million daily activations tracked for the period of Dec. 1-20. Compared even to last Christmas Day, when Flurry saw 2.8 million iOS and Android activations, this past Sunday was up 140% from same day last year. This past Sunday, beginning at 8 a.m. and staying level throughout the day, people downloaded about 10 million apps an hour, Flurry estimates."

The one screen world.

To date there has been a lot of research to negate both my personal enthusiasm and the data that Flurry (and others) are enthusiastically bringing forward. One thing is for certain: the tide is beginning to shift dramatically and it won’t be (too) long before mobile becomes the primary screen. There are a couple of key leading indicators that are pushing this forward:

  • Smartphones are becoming more affordable.
  • Data plans are starting to become more reasonable.
  • The price of data plans are being built into the family cost structure (according to the MediaPost article).
  • Apps are a major draw for new consumers.
  • Media (music, movies, TV, books, etc…) are also pushing this forward.
  • Smartphones are a symbol of social status.
  • People are comfortable watching their favorite TV shows, YouTube clips and movies on a 3.5 inch screen.

It’s not about voice. It’s about data. 

It wasn’t too long ago that mobile carriers didn’t care about data. Their major concern used to be voice usage and churn. According to the MediaPost article, "Cisco predicted today that mobile data use worldwide is poised to grow 21x by 2015." It would be interesting to see what the prediction is for voice. Something tells me that as we get more and more connected, not only does email, text messaging and chat start chewing into the voice usage, but I’m going to guess that FaceTime (and other soon-to-follow products) are going to make voice calls as relevant as sending a letter in the mail (with all due respect to the pains that the postal industry is currently feeling).

It’s happening fast, but it’s also kinda slow.

Mobile networks vs. wi-fi. Interoperable devices. Apple vs. Android vs. RIM vs. Microsoft vs. everyone else. HTML5 vs. apps. Open vs. closed. Not all devices are created equal and none of the software, apps, carriers and more play all that nicely together. It’s going to require a lot of painful business decisions before everything is much easier and the friction is removed for the consumer. While we’re not quite there, we see glimmers of hope and rapid change. That being said, we should all prepare ourselves for much more disruption in the mobile space in the next few years and hope for some stability in the process (historically, this has been challenging).

As always, this doesn’t freak me out… it excites me. It feels like more real opportunities are ahead of us. How do you feel about it?


  1. Lovely, lovely post Mitch. I get it, people love apps, but for many busy people, smart phones perform a function you didn’t touch on in your post. They act as a “the answer to any question in the world” in your pocket, if you have Google (or Siri for you iPhoners).
    Just the fact that a phone with Google can answer most questions you might have while going about your day to day changes how we perceive and use information. The generation that grows up with smart phones will treat information very differently. It will be interesting to watch how kids evolve with smart phones
    The internet revolutionized how we access information, and the smart phone makes that information mobile and even easier to access.
    Yes apps are popular but the possibilities for search are quite intriguing.
    Thanks again for the post Mitch.

  2. I think having two solid operating systems to choose from is helping the growth as well. Competition is necessary for innovation and while I’m a total Apple fanboy Android seems to make iOS better all the time.
    My family uses Sprint as their carrier because I wanted unlimited data (to your point that it’s about data and not voice). I’m not sure how long Sprint can afford that but it’s what kept me from switching to Verizon and paying $50 more a month for the same service.
    It IS an exciting time Mitch. We appreciate your perspective as well. Keep writing, it’s always a blessing to me.

  3. I agree with your point Jeph. It’s magical knowing that an answer to questions life may throw at you during the day is only a couple of keystrokes away. Who hasn’t been in a group dining with some friends, heard a song that no one could name, stood up, went to the loo, Googled it, and came back with the answer? I know I have.
    Thanks for the insights Mitch!

  4. Just today, as I was headed out the door to the grocery store to figure out what to feed my family for dinner, I googled how long it takes to bake yams so that I’d know if I had enough time to make them before all the kids got ornery πŸ˜€
    I love my iPhone. I feel lost without it. My husband and I were talking today about how sometimes he texts me and I miss it or I text him and he misses it. I can’t wait for the day that it’s somehow integrated… like telepathy… or like speaking to Siri: “Text Mark to see whether he wants a coffee from Tims” and he’ll get a message in his ear or some kind of biological notification that I’m contacting him that he cannot miss. Now THAT would be cool.
    Okay I’m rambling…
    Love your blog Mitch. It’s been a while… πŸ™‚

  5. In an upcoming Six Pixels Podcast, you’ll hear from Impact Mobile’s Garry Schwartz. He calls the mobile Web (half-jokingly) the Super App and he’s right. Apps are (a little) over-hyped right now, but with HTML5 and the mobile Web, you get a real and interesting experience… like finding everything you need with a quick search πŸ™‚

  6. After buying my new desktop PC last month, and carring it in the elevator, a neighbor asked me “Why did you spent money on this computer? You can’t even take it with you on the go.”
    Nothing can compete the mobility of all our data with us. MacBook Air and other ultra light laptops seems to be the last step before better and stronger tablets will take over. Combined with smart TVs, And streaming services desktop computers are useful.

  7. Thanks for this post Mitch and the information and the data about the increasing usage of smart/mobile phones. Its true that smartphone are becoming necessity day by day and the usage are also increasing in every field, but these devices are not having that much full capacity like desktops and laptops.

  8. In “The One Screen World” post you said “..why wouldn’t we want all of our appliances and electrical solutions networked?”. Perhaps a better word is networkable. We’re fast approaching a point where it’ll cost virtually nothing to fit a network capability to all manufactured goods – and let them decide how to talk to each other ? All part of the “internet of things” concept.

  9. Prathvee:
    I believe that we will see the convergence of tablet and laptop in 2012. The precursor machines from Apple and Toshiba are already out there and ASUS has a very interesting entry with the Transformer. Next year, the price will drop and the selection will increase. Why? For many companies late to the tablet game or unable to compete, this may be their last chance. Gateway, Acer, HP and the list goes on. The machine that wins will dock a smartphone to a tablet to a keyboard – processing capability will increase as it docks. Storage will not be an issue – look to the cloud. Bandwidth will be the real challenge – Cell carriers are behind the curve from a capacity perspective and as Seth Godin likes to say “All Marketers are Liars” – Not giving us the entire story about their 4G or LTE offerings. Battery life is the other big challenge.

  10. As your neighbour pointed out: it’s also changing the way we work. Mobile and wireless networking certainly makes the notion of a “home office” seem a tad antiquated… everything and everywhere can be an office (if you want it to be).

  11. As an event planner, my business would not survive if I did not have a smartphone. I look forward to the time when Canadian mobile and data plans become more reasonably priced. I am just entering the tablet world and finding it most beneficial. I rarely use my computer or laptop. I am very exxcited to see how technology will change over the next few years because I know that changes will help me work smarter, not harder. Thanks for the thought provoking post Mitch. I always look forward to your posts and tweets.

  12. I couldn’t agree more. I have become the dedicated mobile “googler” in many social and even work environments as the answer to almost any question is a mere 10 seconds away. I absolutely rely on my mobile device to be there when I find a gap in my knowledge. Which brings up an interesting thought.
    Many would suggest that easy access to problem solving information is shrinking our brains – check out – which may be true, but for me it certainly feels like I have learned a great deal with my little answer pad in my pocket. I definitely feel smarter anyhow – haha.

  13. Great post, Mitch. I agree that everything is trending towards a “one screen” approach. In fact, David Skok of Matrix Partners recently gave a presentation on the Mobile Application Development landscape and shows an inflection point in his presentation of where mobile will take over ( – slide 3).
    In the space that I play in (Mobile Business Intelligence) that has historically been dominated by desktop solutions we are seeing a shift towards mobile. One where businesses need to have their business information available anywhere, anytime so that as Boris Evalson of Forrester Research said “One needs to make decisions when and where they need to be made. Not “when I get back to the office,” which may be too late.”.
    I lok forward to the future of mobile and what it will bring, I’m sure there are going to be many exciting new developments in 2012 for all of us to talk about.

  14. We’re able to definitely see this more mobile future… and I, for one, can’t wait for it. I especially can’t wait to see how we figure out the electricity issue… I say wires be gone!!

  15. I’d push this concept even further: I often think about a world where appliances aren’t networked to one another as we have it now, but rather a world where each appliance is its own “Internet” instead of being a dumb client. I know, it’s a little trippy, but this is how I dream.

  16. Perhaps the era of productivity! Especially since the the ability to sync devices is so effortless, what apple has done for us is unimaginable. I seriously think that the efficiency gains in less ‘virtual or e-housekeeping’ will be witnessed through real tangible productivity gains in new and emerging ways of conducting business… That is of course if we survive the winter solstice this year :). Great post, enjoyed reading the build-ons.

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