Seven Signs of the Desktop Web Apocalypse

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard the buzz about Web access on all manner of mobile devices ranging from cell phones to smartphones, e-readers, and iPads. Everyone from Google to Microsoft to IBM is pointing to the “cloud” and ubiquitous access as the future of computing.

While I’m not ready to declare 2009 (or maybe even 2010) “the year of mobile,” from a marketing perspective there are some hard-to-miss signs pointing to the rapid migration away from “desktop” Web access and toward mobile Web access. So much so that it may well signal a desktop Web apocalypse. Let’s have a look at some of the signs.

  1. Hybrid connected devices: The Amazon Kindle hype machine was running at full throttle over the holidays, and even included an announcement that e-books outsold traditional books on one day. Clearly, Amazon has ambitions for this device beyond e-books. Amazon is searching for an app store model and playing with basic Web access. And Amazon isn’t alone in its efforts to figure out the role of specialized yet connected devices. Portable navigation device manufacturers are adding two-way data functionality, mobile gaming platforms have had basic Web browsers for years, and so on.
  2. Phones > PCs: Worldwide, smartphones are projected by RBC Capital to outsell PCs by 2011. We’re not talking about 2015 or even 2012. This is next year. OK, the end of next year, but still, less than 24 months away.
  3. Phones > most other consumer electronics: Continuing with the global numbers, as of 2008 there were 2.7 billion mobile phones in use, versus 850 million personal computers and 1.5 billion TV sets. Further, while it took the U.S. five years to reach 50 million PC Web users, it took Japan only three years to reach the same number of mobile Web users.
  4. Marketers have gotten serious about mobile: Branded apps are everywhere – 2009 saw 30 percent year-over-year growth in mobile ad spend (despite the “Great Recession”), and here’s the kicker: Volkswagen launched a car with a clever iPhone app integration effort. This is a game changer, illustrating that marketers are already willing to place huge bets on this platform.
  5. M-commerce and multichannel shopping have arrived: PayPal reported that payments made via mobile phones during holiday 2009 were up 650 percent versus 2008. Meanwhile, eMarketer pointed to a Motorola survey from holiday 2009 that suggested that 45 percent of North American Internet users whipped out their phones for a variety of shopping behaviors. That alone is impressive, but remarkably, that number was nearly 80 percent in Asia-Pacific and it averages to just over 50 percent worldwide.
  6. The crush of mobile data: Morgan Stanley predicts (in slide 56) that between 2008 and the end of 2013, global “heavy mobile data users” will have tripled, reaching some 1 billion people.
  7. The iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad ecosystem: Steve Jobs, less than five minutes in to the iPad launch event, went out of his way to position Apple as the world’s largest mobile devices company. He supported this point with sales data, reminding us all that Mac laptops outsell Mac desktops and that there are more than 75 million iPhone/iPod Touch consumers worldwide. That’s incredible growth for such a young category (let alone a relative newcomer to the category). Morgan Stanley points out (in slide 33) that if you historically compare the consumer base of popular new platforms eight quarters after launch, the iPhone and iPod Touch had eight times that of AOL after its launch. The numbers are staggering, and Apple’s latest device seems poised to create a new category of portable Web devices.

No one’s quite ready to start writing a eulogy for desktop Web access, but it has become abundantly clear that mobile is the wave of the future, and the marketing implications are endless:

  • Designing for small screens and relatively slower bandwidth.
  • Navigating the Apple vs. Adobe battle (or the Apple vs. Google battle, for that matter); enabling commerce from a wide variety of platforms.
  • Providing utility and the ability to connect with your brand anywhere, anytime.
  • Figuring out what location means in terms of the ability to deliver the ultimate in contextually-relevant messaging.

These are just a few of the challenges marketers are wrestling with, and the mobile ecosystem promises to get more complex before it gets easier.

What does it mean for brands and marketers? It’s all about placing smart bets and experimenting with the knowledge that failure is a critical component of success. We learn by trying, and it’s easier (and ultimately safer) to experiment while costs are relatively low.

There’s no excuse to sit on the sidelines anymore. If you’re not active, you’re behind, and it means having to place bigger bets than if you had started years ago. Now’s the time to dive in.

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