2015: The Year Of The Mobile Singularity

ReadWritePredict is a look ahead at the technology trends and companies that will shape the coming year.

Many enterprises seem content to toe-dip in the mobile deluge. That’s unwise. As Facebook, Uber and a host of mobile-first companies up-end traditional ways of communicating and commuting, companies that don’t take a mobile-first position risk becoming the Microsofts of their industries: big and profitable from yesterday’s businesses, but struggling for relevance in tomorrow’s enterprise.

In 2015 we should expect to see enterprises finally get serious about mobile as they stare obsolescence in the face.

The Mobile Singularity

Given our fixation with our smartphones (the average person looks at her phone over 200 times per day, which will jump to 400-500 times per day when wearables take off), it won’t surprise anyone that mobile is big. Exactly how big, however, is almost shocking.

Consider data from Ericsson, which suggests that 90% of the global population over 6 years of age will own a mobile phone by 2020, with 9.5 billion mobile subscriptions by the same year:

Credit: Ericsson (2014)

With most of the world’s population carrying the Internet around in our pockets, think of how that will change everything from retail to entertainment. Suddenly the Web won’t be something we browse: it will be something we bring with us, wherever we go. It won’t exactly be a singularity, when AI exceeds human intelligence, but it will dramatically change how we interact with the world. 

There won’t be “online” versus “offline,” because the two will completely blend.

In fact, we’re already starting to see this happen. Consider, for example, what’s happening to the world of retail. Over the busy 2014 shopping season, nearly half of all online shopping came from mobile. While just 25% of online shopping in the US consummated in a purchase, as Asymco data shows, that percentage keeps growing each year:

Credit: Asymco

Much of that mobile shopping is happening in-store, as consumers price match or otherwise compare what they see in a physical store to the options available online. Expect it to continue.

Avoiding A Microsoft Moment

Seeing this opportunity, enterprises are jumping into the mobile fray. According to Forrester, by 2017 firms will spend $189 billion engineering platforms and processes for mobile engagement. 

That’s a big number, but it’s not nearly aggressive enough, given what Facebook’s marketing chief, Carolyn Everson, says about the importance of going all-in on mobile:

People are spending about 25% of their day on mobile devices, checking them over 100 times a day. That is going to change not only marketing, but business completely. So if you’re an e-commerce company that starts today, you’d start as a mobile e-commerce company. If you were to start a financial institution today, you’d start completely thinking about mobile.

Even when enterprises do embrace mobile, they fall prey to simply aping the desktop Web on mobile. As Forrester indicates, “too many mobile apps are simply a mirror image of features and navigation from websites that fail to take into account the needs of customers on the go.”

See also: The Top 5 Smartphones Of 2014

This means that apps must be contextual: they must understand how and where they’re being used and anticipate users’ needs. This can be something simple like OpenTable searching for restaurants geographically proximate to me, but it can also be something more sophisticated like Bed Bath & Beyond offering me its omnipresent 20% discount coupon within my iOS Passbook when I’m within a mile of a store.

This is how enterprises need to be thinking about mobile if they want to avoid Microsoft’s mobile debacle. Microsoft was actually early to mobile, licensing a mobile version of Windows back in the early 2000s. Unfortunately, Microsoft thought what we wanted was its desktop on our smartphones/PDAs. We didn’t, and Microsoft’s client-side software business evaporated.

Can We Turn This Ship Around?

Not to worry, though. There’s hope. Consider Facebook, which faced its own Microsoft moment. 

Facebook built its early business on the desktop. As late as 2012, roughly 0% of its billions in revenue derived from mobile. Today 62% of its $10 billion-plus in revenue comes from mobile. 

See also: Top 5 Wearable Devices Of 2014

To get there, Facebook went mobile first. While some companies pay lip service to this concept, Facebook demonstrated commitment to mobile from the top. In one famous example, Mark Zuckerberg booted a senior engineer from a meeting when the engineer showed some product mock-ups on a laptop. “Did I tell you we were going to be mobile first?” Zuckerberg is reported to have told the engineer as he kicked him out.

That’s the kind of mobile leadership and commitment enterprises need if they hope to profit from the inevitable mobile singularity. As consumers blend the physical and online worlds, enterprises need to invest heavily in changing the way they think about and model their customer experiences.

In 2015 we’ll see this happen to a greater degree, paced in part by companies like Facebook and Uber that demonstrate how to do it successfully. To be clear, we’ll also see a number of enterprises that simply don’t transition fast enough and end up as mobile roadkill. But just as we saw enterprises eventually embrace the Internet so, too, will we see them grok the mobile Internet, starting in 2015.

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