2012 is yet another year that has seen extraordinary growth in mobile devices in the developed economies, as well as the range of services these devices provide. We examine a few highlights of where this industry currently is...and where it may be heading.
The Rise and Rise of the Mobile Device
A recent Ofcom report has revealed over a quarter of adults and almost half of teenagers now own a smartphone – with over half of these being acquired over the last year – and this trend seems destined to continue. As the battle between the mobile platforms continues, some analysts have predicted that Android may have reached its peak this year at 61% of the worldwide market. Despite Apple's iOS being on 20% market share, the release of new Apple devices continues to generate excitement as well as strong sales and revenue, as was seen with the release of the iPad 3 earlier in the year. With the imminent release of Windows 8 for tablets - it remains to be seen if Microsoft can make serious inroads in what has been seen up to now as essentially a two horse race. Meanwhile demonstrating just how quickly the mighty can fall, Blackberry maker RIM continues its spiralling downward trajectory at merely 6% of market share, not helped in the least by bad publicity from a network outage at the end of 2011 as well as poor reception to its new Blackberry 10 OS.
Mobile Services: location, location and the mobile wallet
Mobile services have seen rapid growth in many different areas, some worth keeping a particular eye on are mobile payments, QR codes and AR (augmented reality), and maps.
This seems to be the year that mobile payments have finally arrived - with a vengeance. A particularly high profile example in the UK was made by Barclays Pingit service, as well as a stick on card allowing an easy 'wave and pay' service for payments up to £15. With Paypal and Facebook among many others entering the fray offering similar services, the battle for the mobile wallet seems to have begun in ernest – whether or not consumers will be seduced, or end up giving it the same welcome as Google wallet received remains to be seen.
The increased appearance of funny pixelated squares on posters, magazines, shop windows and various other random places (aka QR codes) has probably seeped into the consciousness of most people over the last few years. Their growth in usage between 2010 and 2011 was a staggering 4549% and we have seen them used in a wide range of services, from coupons and social media – to paperless tickets. Yet before this pixelated pixie has even reached its prime, an usurper has arrived on the scene in the form of augmented reality (AR). With AR offering far richer interactive experiences such as apps that overlay pop up signs and live information on the real world you are seeing through the camera of you're phone – many have predicted that the use of QR codes is now doomed to oblivion.
We are also looking forward this year to some interesting developments in mobile mapping. Up to now, Google maps has dominated the sphere being the default offering on both iOS and Android devices, yet the rumour mill has been going into overdrive this year that iOS 6 is set to drop Google maps in preference of its own new system after the acquisition of several relevant companies over the last few years which hint at the use of impressive 3D technology. Watch out for Apples WWDC 2012 in early June.
Yet Google have not been taking this laying down, pre-emptively announcing their own 3D enhancements to Google maps. To complicate things further, Google have created some bad feeling over their decision to start charging for commercial use of its API last autumn. This has led some to seek cheaper alternatives such as OpenStreetMap which is supported by Microsoft.
Who will triumph ? Apple, Google, Microsoft, Users ? Perhaps all that we can be certain of at this time is that the Google v Apple v Microsoft battle has extended into yet more new territory – which some have described as 'an epic battle for the future of mobile computing'.
The Mobile Web: Maturing and Specialising
The use of the mobile web over the variety of available platforms continues to develop in different ways, some notable areas include mobile advertising, social media, and the mobile web site browsing experience.
Mobile advertising continues to go from strength to strength, with a 157% increase in spending to over £200m in the UK alone in 2011. Much of this can be attributed to the increased use of specialised apps such as Ebay, Apple & Google's apps stores, Social Media apps such as Facebook and Twitter, and the increased sales of tablets. In the light of Facebook's recent IPO, many have speculated on how it will seek to generate increased revenue through mobile payments, more targeted advertising and gaming.To what extent this will annoy rather than enthuse their captive audience, remains to be seen.
Social media in general continues to grow in use and influence in many aspects of our daily lives. While there have been many high profile cases of how social media has impacted in developing economies for example in commerce or the Arab spring – the developed economies have been effected in similar as well as intrinsically different ways. Businesses have increased their awareness of opportunities and pitfalls as have governments, political parties, and campaigning groups such as 38 degrees. Some have even argued that social media has had a role in fuelling social unrest – for example the UK riots in 2011 or more constructively with the Occupy movement.
The evolution of the mobile web browsing experience has continued, with a few contrasting approaches. In the worst case, some are still forced into viewing full web pages on the limited retail space of a mobile screen – with varying poor results. Some approaches to improve on this to simplify the browsing experience of 'normal' full sites have included Safari's reader tool and custom apps such as Flipboard.
Other, more established sites have chosen the 'Mobile version' approach where a separate, simplified version of the main site is available on a different url, for example news sites such as the BBC, the Guardian or CNN. A more recent approach has been 'Responsive design' where a single site is created that is 'aware' of the the device it is been shown on and is able to adapt to show the best possible experience for the screen size available, simplifying as necessary. While there are various pros and cons of each approach, at Liquid Light on balance we believe there are many advantages to the Responsive approach that justify it as a preferred approach for building websites. For our part, we continue to develop new working processes and are making an effort to educate our clients on the matter of Responsive web design to ensure their sites are as accessible to all users regardless of device.