The Top Mobile Trends of 2013

The 2013 Mobile Top Ten

Last week, my friends at Search Engine Watch published my mobile year in review article—you can head over there for the original story. However, I’ve also added a more pictorial version here along with a few updates. As much as I’ve been saying that the word “mobile” needs to go away already, it was a very eventful year for the mobile industry. Here’s a snapshot of why.

The essential mobile numbers for 2013

  • As of December, mobile (smartphone) data is now 20% of all Internet traffic. (ComputerWorld)
  • Americans spend 20% of our media consumption time on mobile devices. (Digiday, 2013)
  • Tablets account for only 5% of global internet traffic but are growing fast—tablet shipments grew 83% in 2013, whereas PC shipments dropped 13%. (Digiday, 2013)
  • Globally, one out of five people has a smartphone and one out of 17 has a tablet (Business Insider)
  • In the USA, 64.7% of subscribers has a smartphone  (Nielsen), 35% over 16 own a tablet, and 24% have an eReader. (Pew)
  • 26% of all local search traffic now comes from tablets and smartphones. (Digiday, 2013)
  • Mobile now represents 41% of Facebook’s total revenue and its mobile-only users  now number 219 million, 20% of its total user base. (Digiday, 2013)
  • 40% of all US internet traffic on Black Friday and one-third of all internet traffic on Cyber Monday was generated by mobile devices. Bear in mind that mobile traffic for this time period was roughly 4% in 2010. That’s an increase of 700% in three years.(IBM Digital Analytics Benchmark).
  • Mobile makes up a full 1/3 of Google’s clicks. (Insightful Charts)
  • 40% of YouTube’s traffic comes from mobile devices. (Insightful Charts)

We said goodbye to Nokia as an independent brand

Nokia Store
Nokia Store | Photo Credit:

If you live in the US, you might not realize just how big a brand Nokia was in its heyday. Sony Ericsson may get credit for coining the phrase smartphone but it was Nokia’s 7 Series devices that made them a household word around the world. Few brands have had a greater influence on digital culture yet Nokia’s star never really rose in the US which may have been the key to its downfall. When Apple released the iPhone and automatically ate up the US market, its cachet spread globally and it became the device for consumers to own and manufacturers to copy. Some mobile industry pundits will argue that their achilles heel was being snooty Europeans who felt that could afford to ignored the massive influence of the American market. Others will say that they simply became complacent and stopped innovating quickly enough. As always, the truth is somewhere in between but the simple fact is that they never recovered from being globally one-upped by Apple. So the deal they signed in November to seek the device business to Microsoft for 7.2 billion isn’t unforeseen, but it is the end of an era.

Steve Ballmer | Photo credit:
Steve Ballmer | Photo credit:

We said goodbye to Ballmer as a CEO

Say what you like about Microsoft; that they were shortsighted when it came to mobile, that they didn’t invest enough in design once they saw the light, that they’ve reticent slow to address the shortcomings of Windows overall. All of these things would are clearly true. But what you can’t say is that they’re not open to change; case in point: the imminent departure of Steve Ballmer. Despite desperate attempts to gain parity with other device OEMs in the mobile marketplace, Microsoft has a lot of catching up to do and a willingness to seek new executive leadership shows they’re willing to make huge changes in order to do so. Exactly how it will all work out remains to be seen; despite the grudging respect that Windows Phone 8 has earned, Windows phones own a scant 3.7 market share in the US (though closer to 10% internationally) and the Surface tablet has struggled to find an audience at all. And of course, there’s that hefty investment in the purchase of Nokia to justify. But that investment in Nokia—and in a new CEO— are  indicators that Microsoft has a good shot at a comeback (whether or not the industry wants to see them make one). It all comes down to a willingness to make big changes to a formula that no longer works—something that Blackberry and Nokia were unwilling to do before it was too late.

Blackberry lived to see another day

Thorsten Heins | Photo credit: Wikipedia
Thorsten Heins | Photo credit: Wikipedia

Blackberry CEO Thorsten Heins raised eyebrows earlier in the year when he said that he thought tablets where “not a good business model” and would be dead in five years.  To be fair, he actually wasn’t completely of the mark—tablets aren’t going anywhere but modular computing is really where we’re headed. Unfortunately, Blackberry was late to the table with futuristic thinking. After Heins was ushered out in the fall, there was waffling over whether to sell or go private. Now, after 3rd quarter net losses of $4.4 billion ($8.37 per share), Blackberry is looking at a partnership with Foxconn to sell handset in Indonesia, on of the few parts of the world where its devices are still popular. So it looks like the brand will limp through 2014 but it’s unlikely that we’ll ever see it return to its original stature. Does this industry even like a comeback?

Multi-touch got redefined

Moma Rain Room | Photo credit:
Moma Rain Room | Photo credit:

The must-see art event of the year in New York was the MOMA Rain Room. For the uninitiated, the installation was a space in which visitors could literally walk between the raindrops; sensors set up to detect body movement would pause the rainfall, creating a dry space through which one could walk. While the Rain Room had nothing to do with digital marketing, it had everything to do with the morphing definition of navigation from a fingertip-centric to whole-body experience. We’re still at the precipice of this change but gestural and eye-tracking input technologies like Leap Motion and Tobii are infiltrating  screens of all sizes and in 2014, it will become more commonplace to navigate by pointing—or glancing—from a distance. However, don’t expect to see these technologies become an integral part of mobile devices; physical and full-body navigation are going to see the most use in home television, gaming, digital out of home, and in-store screen experiences.

Facebook made mobile work

Photo credit:
Photo credit:

When Facebook announced its impending IPO in early 2012, mobile was a serious concern; despite the steadily rising number of mobile and mobile-only users, the social network had yet to turn it into revenue. Of course, there were misfires like Facebook Home but by the end of 2012, mobile ads were helping to drive an initially sluggish stock price up and comScore had ranked Facebook the top digital property in terms of mobile engagement. As of Q3, tablets and smartphones account for 49% of Facebook’s ad revenue to the tune of $882 million dollars and a 60% boost in revenue overall. Ok, so desktop revenue is slightly down and they haven’t figured out the teenager problem (quote my 16-year-old niece this Christmas “Facebook is for old people”) but they’ve managed a mobile-first turnaround in record time. Expect to see this new mobile-centric revenue stream, drive a significant investment in mobile-first product strategy in 2014.

T-Mobile became the un-Carrier

Image credit: T-Mobile
Image credit: T-Mobile

It might not have seemed like such a big deal at first glance but when T-Mobile announced it was dropping the traditional two-year contact commitment it was a huge deal. Wireless carriers are notoriously stodgy and change resistant and for one of the biggest to challenge the status quo was unprecedented.  By doing away with device subsidies, T-Mobile opened up a whole new range of choice for consumers;  join with a pre-existing device, buy it outright, or pay with a monthly surcharge appended to your bill.  Of course, it’s a ll a matter of perception—in the end, you’re still paying a high fee for your device—but let’s face it perception is everything. T-Mobile’s demonstrated understanding of this, coupled with its nationwide rollout of LTE boosted the its stock price by 40%. Like Microsoft, T-Mobile is showing a willingness to change and evolve in an industry historically resistant to change and as we all know, it’s those most willing to change who survive.

Samsung became a global mobile power player

Photo credit:
Photo credit:

Samsung has always been the top dog electronics manufacturer in Asia, the brand that all other brands wanted to best. But Nokia and Sony Ericsson always ruled when it came to smartphones outside the US until Android came along. The first Samsung Galaxy and the fleet of smartphones, phablets, and tablets since have earned the brand a 32% share of the global mobile device market and propelled it to a 7.6 billion net income in Q3 2013 (making it more profitable than Apple) and an advertising budget that exceeds the GDP of Iceland. These profits and this new brand recognition will prove to be a springboard for expansion into more exciting things in 2014. Smartwatches and TVs are just the beginning—won’t be the only screens we see the Samsung logo on.

Apple kept on being Apple

Photo credit: Cult of Mac
Photo credit: Cult of Mac

When Steve Jobs passed away at the end of 2011, there were understandable worries all around about the future of the company he built. But Cook, Ives, and Craig Federighi have carried on and pleasantly surprised us all. Pessimists are quick to point out that Apple hasn’t released any game-changing products since losing Jobs and that is true in the strictest sense. But those who are adept and reading subtle signals can see that there are big things coming. Patent filings and the inclusion of Blue Tooth Low Energy in the latest devices point to a future of Apple-branded wearable tech and social machines—MacWorld 2014 should be very interesting indeed. And let’s not forget that Apple still owns the smartphone and tablet market and most likely will for some time to come.

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