For most people “mobile” has traditionally = cell phone = talking. But in the last two years the mobile landscape has changed dramatically, especially in the U.S. with the debut of the iPhone, Apple App Store and now Kindle, iPad and other similar tablet devices. Mobile is quickly becoming about information access, either through the mobile web or stand-alone applications you can download and store on your device de jour.
The Pew Internet & American Life Project and The Nielsen Company released a joint report last week, “The Rise of Apps Culture”, which illustrates just how fast and how prolific the voice to data consumption change has occurred. According to Pew’s estimates, of the 82% of adults today who are cell phone users, 43% have software applications or “apps” on their phones. When taken as a portion of the entire U.S. adult population, that equates to 35% who have cell phones with apps. While usage of apps is still maturing and the propensity to download and maintain applications is high – the average adult has 18 applications on their phone, with younger adults typically having a much higher number of apps on their smart phone. According to Nielsen, gaming, news/weather and maps categories currently top the most popular downloads list.
Is the consumer’s mobile app addiction just a fad, or will this behavior start to define new standards for the user experience? My three predictions:
(1) Apps Are the New WWW
Just like the websites of the late 1990s, consumers will soon expect apps to stop being basic “brochureware” and become more interactive and useful. For an app to become sticky, it will have to enable the consumer to perform functions that are core to their daily lives. In the travel industry, capabilities such as mobile booking, check-in, rebooking and upgrades will quickly become the new standards.
(2) No One Is An Island
With thousands of apps available and limited screen space, users will soon quickly discard those that perform only a single niche function. Instead, they’ll be looking for branded apps that integrate well with other applications in their mobile toolkit. For example, I might be using my airline app and shown a weekend fare deal that I want to save and come back to later when I have more time. A great option would be for me to be able to tag the deal with some keywords and then add it to my Evernote, which is another app I use for maintaining my overall to do list. Perhaps it would also link to a travel guide book for that destination the next time I open my iBook reader on my iPad.
(3) The 4th Screen Becomes Intuitive
I’ve talked a lot about apps, but that doesn’t mean that the Mobile Web will be ignored. In fact, I think the app culture can help improve the mobile web browsing experience. One way I see this happening is through Mobile Web Landing Pages becoming true Portal Pages. Mobile is all about where you contextually are in the moment – place, time of day, season, surroundings, etc. So why not have mobile web landing pages that read all of those aspects and deliver a true contextual experience? Imagine being at the Starbucks at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport and seeing an airline’s mobile web landing page that shows you pictures of their lounge, map of the concourse you are on, targeted ancillary and other retail offers, tweets and status updates from other passengers nearby and quick links to customer service if you need it (it knows you already went through security in Terminal 3 and are waiting to board your flight). Conversely, if it’s Wednesday a few weeks before a holiday and I’m working at a Starbucks while on a business trip, the airline’s mobile web landing page would display inspirational destination content based on the recommendations of my social network, a Starbucks coupon, targeted ancillary and other upgrade offers for the return trip home and a mileage calculator showing how close I am to my next free trip.
There are lots of opportunities for brands to engage their customer through mobile - it will be interesting to see which devices will dominate next: smart phones or tablets? What are your predictions?