Commentary

Mobile Everywhere, Media Lagging

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Forrester's recently released "State of Consumers And Technology" declared 2010 the "year of the personal device." Under that rubric, the research firm in particular highlighted the emergence of e-readers, netbooks and mini PCs. The research firm expects the Kindle and other e-readers this year to reach 10 million in sales, and netbooks and mini PCs together to hit 23.4 million.

Despite the hype around the iPad's launch this year, tablets didn't warrant much attention in the report, probably because competitors to the Apple device are just starting to roll out, with Samsung's Android-based Galaxy Tab launching next month and several others by year's end and in the first quarter of 2011. I'll make a prediction now that Forrester calls 2011 the "year of the tablet."

While the firm may have mercifully avoided slapping the "year of mobile" tag on 2010, it did spotlight the category by looking at cell phone usage. The findings underscored the potential for mobile as an ad medium -- which continues to overshadow the present reality. Cell phones were identified as the most widely used device, with 73% of U.S. adults regularly using handsets, followed by PCs (58%), printers (56%), DVD player (55%) and digital cameras (53%).

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So everyone has a cell phone and they're using them all the time. Ubiquity has long been a major selling point of mobile as an ad vehicle, and that remains the case. But how are people using phones other than for talking?

Forrester's' findings for different mobile data activities show gains from last year, but they're mostly still in the single or low double digits. As shown in the chart above, nearly a quarter (23%) of mobile users are Web browsing, up from 15% a year ago, 20% play games, up from 15%, and 16% listen to music, compared to 10% last year.

The 2009 report on the state of consumer technology didn't ask about mobile app usage, but this year's edition indicated 7% have downloaded mobile applications. That proportion is significantly smaller than the finding in a recent Pew Internet Project report that 29% of adult mobile users have downloaded a mobile app. One possible reason for the difference is survey size: Forrester's data was based on a nationwide sample of 30,452 adult mobile phone owners, while Pew's was drawn from a sample of 2,252.

One thing that's clear is the gap between smartphone and regular phone uses. A separate study from Nielsen this month said that as of June, 59% of smartphone owners and nearly 9% of feature phone owners report having downloaded a mobile app in the last 30 days. The recent spate of research reports on mobile apps also agree, not surprisingly, that younger users are the most avid mobile content fans.

"Gen X and Gen Y will continue to drive adoption of mobile features that give them instant information about products and services as well as access to maps, directions, and local search functions," noted the Forrester study. Nielsen found teens and college-age consumers were the most receptive to advertising in mobile apps.

But the iAd and other rich-media formats in mobile don't come cheap. So marketers have to decide just how important it is to reach a portion of the coveted 18 to 34 demographic via apps. Mobile may be pervasive and always-on, but mobile media is still catching up, and advertising can only grow as fast as media uptake across devices expands.

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