Whether you’re a “mobile first” publisher, app developer or carrier, all eyes are set on Barcelona at the end of this month for Mobile World Congress 2012. It’s part conference, part trade show, part excuse to spend a week at extravagant parties with mobile’s biggest influencers – all wrapped up into an unparalleled four-day event. Long the mobile industry’s largest global exhibition, it attracted over 60,000 participants in 2011, including 12,000 developers, 3,000 CEOs, government delegations from 131 countries and over 1,500 media outlets.
Not long after the release of the very first iPhone, each year has been billed as “the year of mobile.” But there are signs this year may actually live up to the already-heightened expectations. Smartphone shipments in the last quarter of 2011 were higher than even the rosiest estimates, driven predominantly by the iPhone 4S, and the number of mobile devices is expected to exceed the world’s population this year. Facebook’s S-1 has revealed that 425 million monthly average users access their friends’ activities through their mobile device, growing 25 percent quarter-on-quarter. Lastly, the rapid adoption of the rich media standard Mobile Rich Media Ad Interface Definitions (MRAID) is opening the door to new opportunities for brand and performance advertisers to take advantage of the immersive capabilities of the device.
These changes will make this Mobile World Congress the one to watch. Here are four big trends I’m expecting to see at this year’s conference:
1. Alternatives to iOS and Android continue to emerge.
The endgame for mobile is clearly not upon us, as new entrants (Amazon) and old behemoths (Microsoft) invest heavily. Amazon’s strategy of building a beautiful and immersive user experience on top of the raw power and customizability of Android OS is quickly being validated. Apple’s market share in tablets dropped from Q3 to Q4 from 64 percent to 57 percent, respectively, with Amazon securing 14 percent. Microsoft’s close ties with carriers and its upcoming release of a new Windows smartphone this year, as well as Nokia’s channel partnerships, also make both these players relevant in emerging markets. Expect to see more innovation from both of these companies and likely others in the coming months.
2. Machine-to-Machine communication gains steam.
A big theme at CES this year was around smartphones controlling other devices – from televisions to garage doors to home appliances. At MWC, we’ll continue to see this trend grow and expand. We’ll see smartphones monitoring homes and controlling content – think of it as your world remote. There’s no question that both Apple and Google are making bets in this space, ranging from new TV services with Apple TV, to audio-recognition services like Siri, and programs like AirPlay. Expect to see a broader range of devices talking to other devices and the potential of smartphones and tablets to play a critical role in the process.
3. Mobile advertising shifts to “smart” and leaves feature phones for dead.
In the U.S., the smartphone has already taken over the majority of the market. While feature phones still maintain a large market share worldwide, this share will continue to decline as smartphones become more affordable. As mobile advertising increasingly takes off on smartphone platforms, brands and performance advertisers alike are shifting their focus and their budgets solely to smartphones – leaving feature phones obsolete from an advertising revenue perspective. This will likely be reflected in all parts of the mobile ecosystem and reiterated at Mobile World Congress this year.
The spotlight will shine brightly on Apple, Android and possibly even Windows – and no one is going to care (or notice) what campaigns are run on feature phones. Advertisers and agencies just aren’t seeing the same type of returns nor potential on these more limited devices, largely due to the superior native features of smartphones, such as rich media and the app potential. We’re going to see a few traditional feature phone manufacturers try to transition into the smartphone market – expect to hear more from Nokia about its new Lumia handsets. We’ll see how they attack from the low to mid-level market, and if they successfully make the jump from the sinking feature phone market. And speaking of mobile advertising, another theme will be …
4. Mobile ad networks can’t pay the piper, as publishers, games and apps take back control of their inventory.
The old, network-heavy approach to mobile ads just isn’t cutting it for major publishers. Expect to see all major publishers at the show looking to cut new types of distribution deals and control their ad inventory using a new cadre of platforms and services. Why? More money, more control and more transparency over the types of ads shown to consumers. It’s the industry’s dirty little secret. Major publishers are relying increasingly less on third-party mobile ad networks and more on direct contracts with advertisers, agencies, and demand side platforms ramping up spend on real-time bidding exchanges like MoPub Marketplace. The attendees at Mobile World Congress will likely confirm that 2012 is the year where the top 500 mobile publishers will create new in-house positions of mobile ad operations or full time team members that will control their advertising options through new dashboards. As a result, mobile publishers will grow revenues through an increase in audience but also in driving higher profits from their existing inventory.
When the dust settles on shiny new devices and fancy mobile operator announcements, it will be the four trends above that will shape the show and the industry moving forward.