The Importance of Mobile Search in the Asian Market

The mobile communications market is not only one that’s already huge but is also one of the few markets still predicted to achieve a substantial growth on a global scale over the next few years. Access to mobile networks is now available to 90 percent of the world’s population, according to the International Telecommunication Union.  There are currently a staggering 5.3 billion mobile subscriptions worldwide or, in other words, enough to cater to more than three quarters of the global population.

In reality, the figures don’t quite represent a one subscription per one person ratio. Developed countries are now reaching saturation point, with an average of 116 subscriptions per every 100 inhabitants. Penetration within developing markets continues to grow however, with Asia leading the way. Additionally, while these figures represent the take-up of mobile subscriptions in general as opposed to take-up of more advanced mobile Internet systems, the increasingly ubiquitous availability of these mobile networks allows for the current and future growth in mobile Internet. The ITU reports that IMT2000/3G services increased from 72 million in 2005 to 940 million in 2010. Clearly, as mobile data retrieval catches up on voice-only services and mobile Internet usage gains on static access, mobile search is becoming increasingly important.

The Rise of Mobile Search

Mobile search is not merely a case of taking traditional search techniques and transposing them to mobile devices. A higher proportion of mobile searches involve the retrieval of “local” information such as finding a nearby restaurant on the go. Location positioning therefore plays an even more prominent role than it does in more static search systems.

Even during the discipline’s infancy, some were predicting the potential and growing importance that mobile search would come to enjoy.

“Mobile search is a battle to define perhaps the most important new interface with the consumer,” said eMarketer senior analyst John du Pre Gauntt back in 2007. “Whoever cracks the consumer and commercial code for delivering and monetizing relevant answers for people on the go will secure a license to print money, at least for a time.”

So have these predictions been borne out in 2011?

Well, partially, at least. The growth in mobile search has certainly been apparent but not everyone has responded to the increase.

“Roughly one in seven searches, even in the smaller categories, are happening on a mobile phone, but how many of you are putting one seventh of your resources into mobile?” asked Google’s Jason Spero in February of this year. “Your customer is trying to engage you… it would be like not doing business with your customers on Thursdays.”

Spero also points out that 79 percent of smartphone Internet users use their smartphones to help with shopping. In an interesting statistical convergence, 79 percent of large online advertisers do not have a mobile optimized site.

Worldwide mobile advertising revenue is forecast to reach $20.6 billion by 2015, according to Gartner, Inc., but not all types of mobile advertising will generate the same opportunity. Search and maps will deliver the highest revenue, with Asia/Pacific and Japan remaining the market leaders throughout the forecast period.

Mobile Advertising Revenue by Region, Worldwide, 2008-2015 (Millions of Dollars)

2010 2011 2015
North America 304.3 701.7 5,791.4
Western Europe 257.1 569.3 5,131.9
Asia/Pacific and Japan 868.8 1,628.5 6,925.0
Rest of the World 196.9 410.4 2,761.7
Total 1,627.1 3,309.9 20,610.0

Source: Gartner (June 2011)

Mobile Search in Japan

Mobile usage trends within Japan differ from those throughout most of Asia. Japan (and, to a great extent, South Korea) is home to one of the most advanced mobile markets in the world, with sophisticated consumers using their mobile devices for a wide array of activities. Of just over a hundred million Japanese mobile users, more than 59 million used their device’s browser and 33 million, or 33 percent, used a mobile search facility. This is far higher than similarly advanced markets in North America and Europe.

Mobile Search in the Rest of Asia

The usage of mobile Internet in general and mobile search in particular is also high in the rest of Asia for almost diametrically different reasons. In Japan it’s connected to a high level of consumer sophistication and choice. In many of the developing regions of Asia, particularly the vast emerging markets of China and India, broadband and home Internet penetration is much less than it is in Japan, Europe, and America. People who never use a PC or laptop rely on their mobile devices and the importance of mobile search is only set to increase within the Asian market and the rest of the world alike.

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