What was once considered the future promise of mobile phones looks to be coming true, faster than ever.

A report in Technology Review raises the possibility that smartphones are spreading faster than any technology in human history. According to the report – which acknowledges the difficulty of accurately measuring technology development – while it took landline phones a century to reach saturation, mobile phones took only one-fifth as long, twenty years. Smartphones are set to halve that rate yet again, and tablets may be even faster (in the United States).

But this growth is not limited to only one country. The report goes on to point out that as recently as 1982, there were 4.6 billion people in the world, none of whom was a mobile phone subscriber. Twenty years later, the world’s population has grown to seven billion people, and there are six billion mobile phone subscriptions.

The hyperbolic and global nature of smartphone growth is confirmed by Google’s research, available online, which concludes not only that smartphone growth is global, but also that six countries lead the world in smartphone adoption. Those countries are Australia, the UK, Sweden, Norway, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, all of which have over 50% of their population using smartphones.

That global reach and incredibly fast spread should come as no surprise to most Aussies, easily verified simply by looking around the business district of any of Australia’s capital cities. Something similar is happening with tablets, too, and the number of people using them has skyrocketed in the last few years.

All of this points to a minor revolution, as consumers become more committed to and more comfortable with technology. Where once technology was merely functional, and did not extend its reach beyond the workplace, smartphones and mobiles have become quite personal computing devices.

In fact, the greatest mobile revolution may not just be that we can now be reached anywhere there is a cellular signal. Research from Forrester showed that 85%of tablet users use their tablets while watching television – and another report from Nielsen says that 30% of tablet use happens while watching television. The biggest step in mobile may be the one from the desk to the sofa, along with the attendant mindset changes – now tablets (and mobile phones, to a lesser degree) have become consumption devices, reflecting the use of computers as playback mechanisms for digitally recorded media.

The tablet form is nothing new. Ancients used pointed sticks to make marks on thin layers of wax spread on stone tablets, well before paper was invented. Still, tablets are having a bit of a renaissance as they firmly establish themselves as the latest flavour of computing, between the palm-sized mobile phone and the laptop. Compared to smartphones, tablets have their own appeal – larger screens, touch interfaces, and a great flexibility in terms of use. Gartner estimates that tablet sales (worldwide) will reach 118.9 million units this year, a 98% increase from 2011 (60 million units).

The availability of mobile data is one driving factor behind all this growth, alongside consumer demand and the development of an efficient app ecosystem. It seems like the elements have all fallen into place nicely, as none of this seems likely to slow in the days to come, and if anything, looks set to accelerate.

As always, brands and marketers are playing catch-up, although that pace is increasing too. Brands realise that if they’re not in action on these new playing fields that they might well be left behind, and even more, that they’re missing out on the increased levels of engagement that these mobile screens provide.

 

Rohit Dadwal
BY Rohit Dadwal ON 29 June 2012
Managing Director, Mobile Marketing Association Asia Pacific Limited