The Mobile Internet Era Is Upon Us

Jack Blog

May 3rd, 2010 By Jack Morton

Mobile internet is here to stay, and our social lives — that is, how we interact with others, the content we consume, and the things we buy — will be indelibly shaped by its imminent ubiquity.

The Dawn of the Mobile Internet Era

Morgan Stanley’s Mary Meeker — the ‘Queen of the Internet‘ behind both Netscape‘s and Google‘s initial public offerings — recently provided research and insights into the upward trend of the mobile web and social networking.

Among her more startling predictions was that, within the next five years, “…more users will connect to the Internet over mobile devices than desktop PCs.”

This trend, Meeker posits, marks the beginning of the fifth era of modern-day technology’s historical progression, roughly approximated below.

  1. 1950’s-1960’s: the mainframe era
  2. 1970’s: the mini-computer era
  3. 1980’s: the desktop era
  4. 1990’s-2000’s: the internet era
  5. 2010’s-: the mobile internet

And, compared to the uptake of desktop internet usage, mobile internet usage is growing at a considerably faster rate. This rate, Meeker and her team suggest, is evidenced by the disparity between contemporary adoption rates of iPhone/iPod touch versus AOL/Netscape in the early 1990’s — a staggering 11x difference. This trend, Meeker et al. add, is enhanced by the rise of 3G technology, which is available to nearly 21 percent of the world’s cellular users. Japan leads 3g penetration levels with a breath-taking 96 percent.

Data Usage and a Shifting Landscape for Carrier Networks

Carrier networks, however, will face the challenge of dealing with increasingly cumbersome data loads, as mobile internet usage continues to rise. At present, Meeker’s research notes, average cell phone users’ usage patterns consist in roughly 70 percent voice. In contrast, iPhone users’ voice usage only comprises 45 percent of total bandwidth usage. Carrier network NTT DoCoMo of Japan, which Meeker (and others) assume to provide the model for the mobile internet’s future, reports a significantly different pattern: data usage comprises 90 percent of network traffic.

By 2014, Meeker et al. predict, data traffic will increase by roughly 4,000 percent, with the expectation that each year the annual growth rate will exceed 100 percent. Some U.S. networks — namely, AT&T — are already encountering problems in highly populated areas (e.g., New York and San Francisco) due to increased data loads. The data logjam on their network, AT&T claims, is due primarily to iPhone users. Comprising only three percent of the AT&T’s customer base, iPhone users reportedly consume approximately 40 percent of the network’s capacity. And data loads look as though they’re only getting heavier. The next wave of smartphones look more hungry for data than ever.

The Next Wave of Smart Phones (in the Foreseeable Future)

  1. HTC’s new phone, EVO 4G, comes video chat-ready. Apple’s new iPhone promises to offer similar functionality (through iChat) in its latest iteration, though one wonders when Apple will bring video chat to the iPad.
  2. Rumors that Facebook will produce its own phone are preceded by Microsoft’s unveiling of its Kin, a social media-focused smart phone with otherwise lightweight hardware.
  3. Google’s Nexus One and Motorola’s Droid have subsumed the ‘traditional’ role of mobile GPS navigation devices, and look to enlarge their stake in the navigation market, unfortunately for Garmin and TomTom.
  4. HP’s recent purchase of Palm promises the advent of a whole new slough of business-ready smart phones that will compete with Blackberry’s newest line of preferred devices for the suits & ties.

What It Means for the Future of Content Production

  1. Advertising: The most important platform for reaching a captive audience will not be TV, e-mail or the (desktop) internet. Rather, it will be through mobile phones — and companies are catching on. Apple’s iAd will provide developers and agencies opportunities to deliver in-app advertisements. Google is hot on its tails with its attempted purchase of AdMob, but has encountered snags along the way.
  2. Publishing: It’s  obvious that big publishers are well on their way to taking their content live on the mobile internet. In the near future, do-it-yourself mobile content publishing programs like Maxdox and full-service companies like PressMart will provide publishers — both small and mid-sized — the tools they need to bring their content into the mobile internet era. This point doesn’t take into account the imminent increase in usage of various online publishing platforms like YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.
  3. Virtual Goods: With nearly $600m in revenue and $1 per average user engagement, FarmVille’s continued success has proven that virtual goods are no longer a trend relegated to the Far East. And both Foursquare‘s and Gowalla‘s location-based apps center their models on rewarding users with virtual honors like ‘badges’ and other rewards, sometimes in exchange for real rewards. With the rise of upstarts like Booyah and an ever-growing potential base of users, virtual goods are becoming an unforeseen form of content that is certainly a force to be reckoned with, given it’s significant revenue generation and popularity.

That’s it for now, but I’d love to hear your thoughts on what the rise of the mobile internet means for other aspects of life — technology, media, culture, life or otherwise. Please provide comments below, and check out the original post on my blog, Living in the Future. Also, see this entry re-posted on Wall St. Cheat Sheet, which receives over 50k unique visitors per month.