The year ahead for mobile

Apps will become more integrated, while location marketing and virtual reality offer opportunities for brands, James Connelly predicts.

James Connelly: Ad-blocking isn't the advertising world's Armageddon
James Connelly: Ad-blocking isn't the advertising world's Armageddon

It’s fair to say mobile has very much had the spotlight in 2015. So, more of the same in 2016?

Bad news, industry. It’s time to pack up and go home, especially us mobile folk. According to some reports, we have spent Christmas downloading ad-blockers on to our phones and there are no ads left. If you are looking for a career change, might I suggest the print industry – it’s very difficult to block print ads.

In 2010, I wrote an article about the first iPad launch. My view was that it had no place in the market and would be a disappointment in the long term, once Apple fanboy sales thinned out. It went on to become the fastest-selling Apple device at the time.

Interestingly, a few years on, there was some truth to my iPad prediction. Apple controls nearly 25 per cent of the worldwide tablet market, down from 27.7 per cent in 2014 – at present, iPad sales are declining by 18 per cent year on year.

To be fair, I have made some accurate predictions, especially if we look at the Year Ahead essay I wrote for Campaign at the start of 2014. I suggested that smart businesses will go mobile-first, the Facebook model of native advertising will succeed, programmatic in mobile will gain traction and we will see a consumer shift from social to messaging platforms. 

Let’s assume that ad-blocking isn’t the advertising world’s Armageddon. Here’s how I see 2016 developing.

The app evolution
The app economy will continue to flourish. Globally, app download volumes will rise, especially as consumers in emerging markets and the high-growth economies of India and China adopt smart devices. 

Global app-store revenues will skyrocket – estimated to total $58 billion in 2016. Android will remain dominant in download market share over Apple iOS and will catch up on revenue generated in its Play store. 

Certain app categories will fare well. Social and messaging apps will continue to grow in popularity, along with video and entertainment ones, as people increasingly turn to their phones to consume audiovisual content. And business-productivity apps will surge – many see the future of the app economy in enterprise.

Apps that facilitate mobile money transactions will also grow, as people get more comfortable with commerce, payments and banking on the small screen. The likes of Apple Pay and Google Wallet are accelerating this adoption.

Internet of Things devices will see an increase in popularity, as will their accompanying apps. As connected cars, homes, gadgets and wearables become more mainstream, they will stimulate app adoption. Lifelogging behaviour will grow as a result.

Apps vs mobile web
The growing practice of app indexing and deep-linking will help make app content more discoverable. Apps that were previously standalone pieces of software will become more integrated, taking on the characteristics of websites and appearing in the results pages of search engines.

In fact, apps will start to take precedence over mobile websites – as they can do everything that a website can but in more intuitive, convenient and accessible ways. 

Google’s announcement that its mobile search results will start to include "app first" content, as well as the ability to "stream" some apps that users have not installed on their devices, could spur the usage of apps. 

Consumers will notice that their apps are smarter and more personalised too. Apps will increasingly be able to predict future needs and behaviours. They will be accessible via voice-activated digital assistants (such as Siri and Cortana) and be able to retrieve content through OS-based search, such as Google Now and Apple’s Spotlight. The user interface of apps will become more simplified and voice-driven.

Location could be the game-changer. It is pretty unique to mobile but no-one has really cracked it as a marketing tool with scale. I think that’s about to change. 

There are three ways to look at location in marketing: location-based ads, profiling customers based on historic location for targeting later, and attribution (being able to attribute someone going to a location back to an ad they have seen on mobile, desktop or tablet). Many are playing in this space but, to truly work at scale, a company with an app on everyone’s devices needs to take the reins. My big prediction is that Facebook will release a product in 2016, finally putting location marketing on the map.

Better advertising 
Ad formats and experiences will improve, with the threat of ad-blocking focusing the minds of advertisers and publishers on creating more engaging content. While mobile ad-blocking might pose a threat, it’s unlikely to make a significant dent in the available ad inventory.  

Native and in-stream formats will develop. Native-style display ads will grow alongside the dominant paid social native ad formats. There will also be a greater application of data and the adoption of more data management platforms among advertisers, so ads become more personal, more relevant and less annoying.

Virtual reality
Mark Zuckerberg claims that he will change the world for a second time through Oculus Rift and virtual reality. It’s lofty, but I’m on board with the sentiment. However, it’s more likely that Google and YouTube will spur VR adoption initially. Video platforms are now set up to host 360-degree video that anyone with an Android smartphone and a Google Cardboard headset can access. 

The launch of consumer VR headsets such as Oculus Rift, set to be released in the first quarter, along with the production of cheaper options including Google Cardboard, will drive more home usage of VR and open up opportunities for brands.

However, the real opportunity will be in high-street retail and at brand events, providing controlled-environment immersion into VR for the mass market.

As it becomes clear that mobile is the future of digital marketing, technological advancements will weave mobile devices into our lives in more seamless and rewarding ways. 

James Connelly is the founder and chief executive of Fetch

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