crowds of people at unveiling of the pope eight years apart. 2005 shows tons of onlookers with no smartphones held up. 2013 shows same size crowd, jam packed with glowing rectangle screens

Mobile adoption in 2013: it’s time to stop calling it “second screen”

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crowds of people at unveiling of the pope eight years apart. 2005 shows tons of onlookers with no smartphones held up. 2013 shows same size crowd, jam packed with glowing rectangle screens

The image above, originally produced by NBC, was posted on our Twitter feed this week by a good friend. It shows two crowds, both gathered for the exact same event (the unveiling of a new pope), at the exact same location, eight years apart.

I’ve never seen a more powerful illustration of just how far mobile adoption has come.

In fact, it’s starting to feel a little bit like an understatement to simply call it “adoption”. It’s more like “total take over”.

It’s happened. Mobile is pervasive.

Little computers that we carry in our pocket, bag, or purse, or even attach to our eyeballs, are increasingly, well, everywhere.

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According to a Google study, smartphone penetration is between 33% to 51% for adults in North America and the UK (see above).  On top of that, Pew has reported that 33 percent of US adults either own an eReader or a tablet. And a few analysts suggest that not only will tablet ownership continue to grow – it’s going to outpace the growth seen by its smartphone siblings, 3 to 1.


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Which is why some people are calling 2013 the year of the tablet. (Don’t get too excited… people also called 2010, 2011, and 2012 the year of the tablet too. It’s probably more like the decade of the tablet.).

The mobile web traffic take-over

One of the most repeated stats from Mary Meeker’s often-cited mobile roundup, is that by 2014 global mobile web traffic will finally surpass desktop web.  Next year, at some point, more Internet will be consumed by handheld devices than by laptops and desktops.


When that cross-over happens, will we still being calling mobile a “second screen?”

Forbes doesn’t think so. They point out that smartphones and tablets aren’t just ubiquitous portable computers – they’re increasingly becoming the “remote control” of the world.

The smartphone [is] becoming the hub … used to turn off the lights or control the temperature of a house. More devices will go mobile, augmenting the very definition of the term, and the smartphone will become increasingly important as the “mothership” that controls them all. (source)

And mobile computing looks set to get even more intertwined in our daily lives. Google Glass is yet to be released, but it’s already spawning a number of parody videos making fun of this deeper dependence of mobile computers, and winning over crowds at SXSW.

Meanwhile, the battle of mobile operating systems and devices continues to underscore just how huge this business continues to be. This week Samsung revealed its next blockbuster smartphone (the previous version of which surpassed sales of the iPhone – built by the biggest tech company on the planet – a few quarters in 2012) and BlackBerry announced its biggest single shipment ever of smartphones with its Z10. Smartphone sales aren’t slowing down, in other words.

There are plenty of incredible stats that are all basically saying the same thing: Mobile has arrived. And it’s everywhere. But it’s that one photo above, of the crowds in the Vatican, that really drives this point home. Take another look. The mobile explosion isn’t just a bunch of numbers on a chart – it’s a cultural facelift. And with that, comes a whole new way to produce, consume and interact with content.

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So what’s the big deal?

Well particularly for businesses producing content – like marketers and publishers – it’s crazy to still think of mobile as a secondary strategy, a nice-to-have for your overall business. As one astute blogger at AdAge put it: having a mobile strategy is like having a laptop strategy 20 years ago.

Having a mobile strategy understates the importance of mobile. It’s like having a side dish of steak. It suggests that mobile is one of many important online distribution channels, as opposed to the reality – it is the most important channel, and in fact, making a distinction between the desktop and mobile web is a mistake. (source)

There’s no more room to be on the fence about mobile’s dominance. Just like there’s no such thing anymore as a “mobile strategy” – only good strategies, and bad ones.

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