What Mary Meeker's mobile internet means for you

When Mary Meeker, perhaps technology's leading prophet, looks to the future she sees the mobile internet growing ever faster and that means changes for businesses, programmers, and users.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

The real debate about the internet infrastructure's future may not be whether the last mile will be by fibre or cable but between varities of 5G. That's because, as Mary Meeker, a partner at venture firm KIeiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (KPCB), pointed out in her annual Internet trends report, the internet is moving quickly to mobile.


How fast? Meeker, widely recognized as one of the internet's leading forecasters, found that global mobile internet usage leaped from 14 percent to 25 percent between May 2013 and May 2014. In North America, it jumped from 11 percent to 19 percent and in Europe it bounced from 8 percent to 16 percent.

Meeker found that mobile internet traffic is growing at a rate of 1.5 times that of conventional broadband. To be exact, she sees it growing at an annual rate of 81 percent. Video is largely driving that growth. 

What does that mean for you? Well, Meeker made several predictions. First, there's still a lot of room for more smartphones to be sold. With 5.2 billion mobile phones in use, KPCB sees only 30 precent of them being smartphones. So, Android, Apple iOS, and all the other mobile operating systems still have plenty of room for growth.

It also means that mobile advertising also has room to grow. That said, as ZDNet's Tom Foremski pointed out, monetizing the ad opportunity in mobile is not easy. Old-line print media companies in particular have done a poor job of finding a mobile ad format that works. Still, since Meeker estimates there's $30-billion per year to be made in mobile ads, it behooves advertisers, marketers, and media companies to find a way to make it work as soon as possible.

But if you're a developer, and you're not creating mobile apps, you're a fool. By KPCB's count, people spent $38-billion in 2013 on mobile apps, and the market is only going to grow. Gartner predicts that by 2017, mobile apps will generate more than $77 billion in revenue.

These new mobile apps aren't going to be just your same old apps you've been building. Meetker cites Matthew Panzarino on the future of mobile apps. "We’re entering the age of apps as service layers. These are apps you have on your phone but only open when you know they explicitly have something to say to you. They aren’t for ‘idle browsing,’ they’re purpose-built & informed by contextual signals like hardware sensors, location, history of use & predictive computation."

For developers this means you'll need to either work directly with the vendor. Or, at the least that the vendor has open application programming interfaces (API)s. Without access to hardware sensors your applications will be muzzled and ineffective.

The data from the sensors can be used for more than just local applications. They can, and will be, used for Big Data and cloud-based applications. We're already seeing some such apps as Jawbone's UP app that monitors a users' activity level and DropCam, a home video security system that integrates with Android and iOS devices.

At the same time, Meeker sees video, and the rise of cord-cutting coming to mobile devices. She sees smartphones and tablets not just replacing remote controls but Internet TV replacing traditional television. In particlar, on-demand mobile apps, such as WatchESPN, BBC iPlayer, and HBO Go are all gaining popularity with mobile users. Indeed 40 percent of Internet TV watchers are already using mobile devices.

Mobile is doing far more than simply replacing the old ways of controlling and watching TV. Meeker observed that 84 percent of mobile owners use devices while watching TV. They use them, in order of popularity for Web surfing, shopping, checking sports scores, looking up information about what they're watching, and talking to friends about the program. It strikes me that there's are opportunities for apps that can work hand in glove with multi-screen television watchers.

When viewed as a whole, the future is clear. It belongs to the mobile Internet. If your business is not getting ready for that future today, you'll be in trouble tomorrow.

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