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1,000,000 Apps: Yes, 2011 Was The Mobile Tipping Point

Mobile, mobile, mobile…: it has been one of  THE topics of 2011, although with much skepticism by many. Despite reaching critical milestones such as global ubiquity of mobile coverage, 30% global penetration of smartphones (over 60% in the U.S.), overtaking the PC in shipments, and this week reaching the milestone of  1,000,000 apps available in the marketplace some naysayers hold on to the idea that the mobile revolution is an isolated event, not an evolutionary leap. In this post I’m going to try to put the arguments to rest and prove that 2011 was the tipping point. It’s a dirty job, but someone has to do it….

First, let’s look at the significance of the 1,000,000 app number. My friends at Mobilewalla have been tracking the app marketplace and put together the following infographic to show the progression of the sector. They were also kind enough to ask me for a quote, but feel free to ignore that part if you want!

(click on the image to make it bigger)



Anindya Datta, the founder and executive chairman of Mobilewalla. had this to say about this landmark achievement:

This is truly an astonishing accomplishment that cannot be ignored. The growth of apps is the fastest growing consumer segment in the history of commerce. The app race began in July, 2008 when the iTune App store opened and Google followed with the launch of the Android operating system in October, 2008. Recently, app marketplaces have been launched for the Blackberry RIM and Microsoft Windows Phone platforms. In the early days most of the initial apps were “fun, indie” apps, such as the Doodle Jump game, one of the first mass-market apps to gain viral popularity and paved the entryway for other mass successes like Angry Birds. As app usage skyrocketed, the nature of the app ecosystem changed quickly – new apps were designed to improve our lives, disseminate news, weather and even crop data in places like rural India.

Reaching the million app mark signifies that in an unprecedented amount of time a whole new technology sector has reached maturity, and capitalized on an immense consumer demand to make their mobile devices the foundation of their digital lives. It may not be a clear case of supply and  demand; instead I see it as deeply synergistic, perhaps even symbiotic. The app ecosystem is developing rapidly within the mobile system as an incredibly experimental process driven by a race to find the correct value proposition for both consumers and brands. And underneath it all is the immense, largely untapped power of “big data”. LOTS and LOTS of data. Exabytes of the stuff!

History has never seen as great a democratization of creative development work as we’ve witnessed in the last three years in the mobile app development segment. Anyone, from individuals to established firm can quickly and cost-effectively deploy mobile app solutions that meet the needs of a diverse group of users across a global growth market; it really is astounding. In the future we’ll see some consolidation and natural selection in play as the market speaks, but I fully anticipate more entrants into the field and a continual improvement in usability and functionality of apps on the market, especially as more emerging markets come online with 3G and 4G networks.

Speaking of emerging markets, many naysayers would say that feature phones (which can run some apps by the way) dominate the market. And they would be right. But new data from Vision Mobile suggests that the growth we’ve seen in established markets is already in the process of being blown away by the adoption curve in other areas of the world:

As smartphones transition from luxury items to lifestyle staples, new phone owners are focusing on low-priced options and budget data plans. For much of the world, particularly in large but low-income markets like India and China, pre-paid mobile phones make the smartest cell phone choices. A number of wireless carriers, both in the United States and abroad, are now delivering this convenience in smartphone handsets as well.

In the United States, low-income consumers have increasingly come to rely on mobile phones for their communications needs, and landlines are seen as luxuries. This has become the norm for the under-30 set, as well as people who rent rather than own their home.

In Asia, Vision Mobile found that smartphone adoption is around 19 percent, but that figure is a bit deceptive.

Asia, in case you haven’t brushed up on geography recently, is a huge continent, and its populations, and thus trends, vary significantly from country to country, and region to region. For instance, 46 percent of Taiwanese mobile phone owners have a smartphone, and Thailand and Malaysia are seeing increasingly higher levels of smartphone penetration.

And get this: China has recently surpassed the United States in the smartphone market by volume, according to some estimates. China is also reported to have the highest number of cellphone users who actually own two or more mobile phones. Apple CEO Tim Cook said China is the company’s second most important market, and iPhone purchases are an important reason for that.

In Middle East nations like the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, mobile phone adoption is also exceedingly high, each over 150 percent as of mid-2010.

Africa and the Middle East (which were bundled together) and Latin America had the lowest smartphone adoption in the Vision Mobile study, with only 18 and 17 percent adoption respectively.

Roy Patel of Lightspeed recently posted on the topic of mobile research in emerging markets and sited some additional interesting points:

BRIC Markets Should Make You Pay Attention to Mobile

As huge economic growth continues in the BRIC markets, there is a need for more data and consumer insight. So is the mobile device the tool to deliver that insight? I think YES! Not only due to the fact that online PC usage will flat-line in these markets due to access and cost, but because the mobile device is becoming more affordable to the masses. Now you can get non-urban sample and data by asking for consumer opinions from villagers via their mobile phones. We know that:

  • In China and India, more people have mobile phones than any other type of device – this surpasses even entertainment devices such as TVs and radios.
  • Availability of smartphones allows mobile research to become more efficient and engaging.

Only recently, the head of Google Mobile in India stated, “The next 200 million new Indian Internet users will largely be mobile-first users and out of those, 100 million will be mobile-only users.”  Google expects India’s Internet growth to be driven by mobile users, predicting that they will form the majority of new Internet users in the country as low-priced smartphones become widely available. Will mobile phone adoption allow us to provide a mobile market research solution to India’s masses?

The statistics clearly indicate that 2011 was the mobile tipping point. We are now a mobile technology culture on a global basis and as the pace of innovation and technical advancement continues unabated the message to anyone within the marketing, business intelligence, or consumer insights  industries should be: “you better jump on board or be left behind, because the progress train ain’t stopping for anyone!”.

Still not convinced?  When in doubt, follow the money. I don’t know what the global investment numbers for mobile development are, but if we just look at recent news within the market research space we can see that the major global firms have placed their bets on mobile. Here is a rundown of some of the recent headlines:

Ipsos Loyalty has launched a mobile research panel using Survey Analytics’s SurveySwipe platform.

Revelation Announces Global Partnership with GfK 

Kantar commits £2m to Lumi Mobile data collection tech

Jana, which provides research and marketing services using text messaging, has opened an office in Singapore

MarketTools unveils new mobile offering

Mobile advertising and CRM firm Mobile Posse has teamed up with SurveySwipe and iPinion to launch a mobile research offering

Vision Critical adds mobile and Facebook capabilities

Those are all from the past 30 days folks. You don’t get to be the size of most of these firms without making very smart decisions. It’s somewhat axiomatic that the larger the company the more risk averse  they are; these companies don’t gamble on poor odds or invest lightly.  They also have a lot of overhead to support and look for significant revenue opportunities, not small contributions. Perhaps we should all be paying attention a bit more?

Finally, I recently was asked to present at the MRIA “Some Like It Mobile” virtual event along with industry leaders John Williamson of Qualvu, Leslie Townsend of Kinesis, Miles Wright of SSI and Jason Cyr of Tiipz. It was truly an excellent event and featured a ton of provocative thought leadership on where mobile research is today and where it is going in the future. My presentation was “Mobile Life: The New MR Paradigm” and I covered a lot of data from numerous sources to make the point that whether we want to believe it or not, mobile technology is the key to the future for anyone involved with trying to understand, engage, and market to consumers. It’s a pretty brief presentation; here is an embed so you can decide for yourself whether the evidence I presented made the case effectively.

So there we go. I think you’ll agree with me that yes, 2011 was the mobile tipping point. Now things will get very interesting indeed! I can’t wait to see what 2012 will bring!

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2 responses to “1,000,000 Apps: Yes, 2011 Was The Mobile Tipping Point

  1. Great post Lenny; I agree we’ve left the tipping point behind Even at Qualvu our global project volume is tipping (no, toppling) towards mobile video collection, and it’s not just client demand, it’s consumers who are moving en masse to smartphones, and see it as an ideal medium for qualitative feedback.

    To wit – recently we completed a study for a client in six global markets, specifically among Gen Y sample. As a sidebar insight to the overall study were interesting observations as we watched younger people getting all their information. Across geographies none were seeking media from TV – it’s a one-way box of output, and this totally misses the point of new information flow; virtually all sought that from their PCs. But what was by far the fastest accelerating medium among younger consumers? Anyone curious should re-read your article (hint: their phones aren’t dumb!).

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