The explosive growth of smartphones and the resulting tectonic shifts in consumer behavior continue to demonstrate the need for big marketers to pay attention and find ways to connect with their audiences on mobile devices (as if you haven't heard that before).
Here's a look at five important trends that will continue to shape this space - and the corresponding opportunities for marketers - in 2012.
No. 1: Mobile Is the First Screen
Mobile is often called "the third screen" (placing it behind TV and the desktop web). There has been a lot of talk about this over the last few years, and some industry advocates have gone so far as suggesting that your web experiences should be designed for mobile first, and then adapted for desktop access. There are pros and cons to that approach and I don't want to get into the full debate here. Instead, I wanted to point to the fact that two significant players in the media landscape have recently highlighted their evolving approaches to mobile distribution.
First, ESPN VP and General Manager of Mobile Michael Bayle talked about mobile as the network's first screen during his keynote at MediaPosts's Mobile Insider Summit. Bayle shared that ESPN's mobile audience reach is over 20 million, with massive growth in terms of time spent on mobile properties versus last year.
Secondly, Facebook revealed in its IPO filing that it had more than 425 million active mobile users in December 2011; just over half of its total user base. Currently, the company makes "no meaningful revenue" from its mobile users, but all signs point to the fact that this will change in the very near future, as it is rumored (and alluded to it elsewhere in the S-1 filing) to be rolling out sponsored stories on mobile as a starting point. Facebook is clearly looking to grow mobile users and usage, and with already half of its total subscribers actively hitting the property from mobile, it has become a platform it can't ignore.
No. 2: The Platform Race Gets More Interesting
Apple amassed an enormous market lead with the 2007 launch of the iPhone, but Android has since made tremendous strides. Together, the two platforms accounted for almost 90 percent of smartphones sold to U.S. consumers in Q4 2011 (according to Nielsen). Android continues to outpace iOS in terms of units shipped on a quarterly basis, although the launch of the iPhone 4S helped Apple to eat away at some of that lead. And, perhaps even more interestingly, according to a study from Consumer Intelligence Research Partners, 39 percent of iPhone 4S buyers were defecting from Android phones. Patent wars will continue to rage in this massive race. But the other new(ish) wrinkle here is that Microsoft is building on the relative success of Windows Phone - WP8 is getting great reviews, as are the first devices from Nokia powered by the Redmond giant's phone OS. This space may well become a three-horse race.
No. 3: Mobile Gets More Contextually Relevant
Mobile devices are already incredibly smart. They're location and time aware. Accelerometers and gyroscopes enable them to detect and measure movement. The camera is becoming a bridge between the physical and digital worlds via things like 2D barcodes, image recognition, and augmented reality. Mobile can even listen via the embedded microphone and tell you what you're listening to or watching on TV (via apps like Shazam and Into_Now). And the platforms will continue to get smarter and smarter with the addition of new sensors and new software. One example is Motorola Smart Actions, a software utility built into many Android-powered phones, coming to market. Smart Actions enable the device owner to pre-configure certain functionality - automatically turning the phone to vibrate as soon as you walk in the door to your home, for example. Another simple example is enabling safe driving - the phone could send an auto-reply to a text message while in the car, along the lines of "I'm currently driving - will respond to your message as soon as it's safe." This constant contextual awareness will provide more and more opportunities for marketers to deliver hyper-relevant messaging.
No. 4: Mobile Multitasking
I've written about this one extensively already, so I won't go too deep here, but I'd be remiss to leave it out of a post on trends in 2012. This will continue to be huge, and we'll see a ton of marketer and content provider experimentation this year.
No. 5: Mobile Commerce and Retail
Continued strong growth is projected in this space in 2012. EMarketer is forecasting a mobile commerce marketplace of $11.6 billion this year, which would represent a 73.1 percent year-over-year growth rate versus 2011. Tremendous growth was seen in mobile commerce during the critical holiday period for retailers in 2011, with GSI Commerce reporting a 254 percent increase in Black Friday sales. In November last year, mobile payments provider Square reported that it was processing $11 million in mobile sales per day. Meanwhile, ShopKick reported just last month that its 3 million users have scanned more than 10 million products and viewed more than 1 billion in-app deals and offers. The mobile phone is clearly becoming a shopping utility, and, increasingly, a transactional tool. Ultimately, it will remove friction from the buying process and enable marketers to have a clear view of a customer's journey from consideration through to purchase.