- The adoption rate of mobile devices is off the charts. There are about 120 million smart phone devices in the United States and between 40 to 45 million tablets.
- The Television and Video Game industries are offering increasing amounts of supplemental content optimized for mobile devices broadly to encourage multi-screen engagement and specifically to encourage social interaction and the discovery of secret content or levels.
- As mobile technology works through its growing pains, many publishers have to choose between having a really great robust app experience versus a really good browser experience.
- Responsive web design is a great concept, but not many sites, other than the major brands can take advantage of it. Often times, you will get a “Plain Jane” mobile experience because it's the same site getting translated across a number of devices.
- An average user downloads approximately 50 apps during the course of their 2 year phone contract, but they tend to use only 7 to 10 applications regularly.
- Many users want to spend more time with apps because the user experience is much more fluid than a browser. However, when it comes to making the all important conversion, whether it’s submitting personal information or not, people feel a lot more comfortable going through the browser.
- Apps that take advantage of cross-platform functionality are finding much greater success than those that don’t.
- Google and Bing's mobile search results are more action than description driven. There are a lot more quick links that are available versus the more general, broad descriptions.
- In many cases, the conversion actually happens offline. Users have learned to engage with mobile search in this way, and there has been a tremendous growth in requests for data on a hyper-local level.
- There is a huge intersection between mobile and social media and all the other formats of media that exist and create an overall advertisers brand. Brands need to view mobile as part of a converged effort in order to make their brand standout.
Full Interview Transcript
Eric Enge: What are your thoughts about the mobile market?
Diran: The adoption rate, obviously, is off the charts. We have about 120 million smart phone devices in use here in the United States. This took about 10 years to reach. Tablet devices have grown much faster than that. We are at 40 to 45 million devices in just two to two and a half years.
It used to be that people were slow to adopt new technology that required some initial set up or to use something completely new, but I think the iPhone changed that, and the iPad did it for the tablet market.
In terms of usage and consumer behavior, people are much more comfortable with these devices. It used to be that people were slow to adopt new technology that required some initial set up or to use something completely new, but I think the iPhone changed that, and the iPad did it for the tablet market. People are much more comfortable spending most of their time attached to these devices.
It's a very personal thing. People like the customizability and personalization of these devices. That's a big part of the reason why Android gets a lot of popular attention. Not only is there a broad range of devices to choose from but Android users also have more choices in home screen customization and what widgets they can use, whereas iPhones are a lot more rigid with their grid layout.
On a cultural level, people are making shifts in their behavior, whether it’s consciously or subconsciously, in order to incorporate this mobile lifestyle. I don't think a lot of research has actually been done to understand the long term effects for what this means for consumers. We are seeing a lot of changes and are going to continue to see them with the advent of new technology, new platforms, and faster Internet. It’s going to continuously evolve at an even quicker rate.
Eric Enge: Is part of the reason for the rapid growth of the tablet market due to smartphone's relatively small screen size?
Diran: It could be, as tablets are in between devices. The smartphone is something that people have with them all the time and is portable to the point where it can slip into their pocket; a smaller screen actually has a benefit. However, we are also seeing a trend of the size of smartphone’s screens increasing. The Galaxy Note 2 that came out recently has a 5.5 inch screen which isn’t that much smaller than the 7 inch iPad Mini or the Galaxy Nexus 7. The line between tablets and smartphones is becoming increasingly blurry. Some of that growth is probably related to the screen size because you did have the 10 inch iPad type of tablets, but now you are getting the wide screen devices in the 7 inch tablets that are quickly outpacing the sales of the previous generation of tablets.
While there may have been some correlation between screen sizes in terms of adoption that is being blurred very quickly. People who have smart phones tend to also buy tablets. About 25% of Smartphone users also own tablet devices.
Tablets and smartphones are being used in different ways. People on their phones are messaging, using them as a way to connect to the Internet and to be social. Tablet devices also have many of these capabilities, minus the phone bit, but people are using them a lot more in their down time at home. They use tablets to read books, to consume media and content, and as a second or even third screen to their television.
Eric Enge: An increasing number of television shows are offering supplemental content on the web these days.
Diran: Absolutely. That has caught on very quickly. People are staying and watching the television shows that they want, and they are watching it at the time that it is being shown on their television, instead of watching via their DVR recorded episodes. They are watching it when it is being televised so that they can interact on their third screen devices and be a part of the conversation on their social media stream.
Eric Enge: It's a brilliant play by the TV networks, because now you get the person to sit down and actually stay in front of their TV during the commercials.
Diran: Yes, absolutely. The biggest proponent of this is the video game industry. You have certain previews and offline content that can be watched on your PC but, in order to get the full experience you have to connect to your game console, and follow along with the app that is provided for that game on your mobile device. A great example of this is Halo which is very popular with the Xbox console. They have an app for both tablets and smartphones. In order to get the full experience and download and unlock some of the secret levels within the game, the gamer must interact with the app and then play it on the console that ties back to the whole multi-screen engagement.
They are working really hard to create this hub of entertainment for their customer's living rooms. This allows the publisher, Microsoft in this case, to measure the engagement of that content with ads that are within their live tile interface. I think we're very quickly getting to a place where we’re going to see much more of that multi-screen engagement happen in many more creative ways. We are only seeing it in its earliest stage.
Eric Enge: Right. And what about the mobile option by web publishers?
Diran: There are always questions about how much of their content do they need to revamp and recode in order to fit all these different device screen sizes. Unfortunately, a lot of folks still have to choose between having a really great robust app experience versus a really good browser experience. It is important to have presence in both. There is research out there that allows you to look at and understand which channel is best suited for a particular brand or vertical etc., in terms of an app versus WAP approach for these smaller screen devices.
Eric Enge: Right. There are still a lot of publishers who are not even addressing mobile at all in my experience. This is in spite of the fact that many sites are reporting that between 20% and 30% of their traffic is coming from mobile devices.
Diran: There are a plenty of sites which say that but there are just as many that do not offer an optimized mobile experience. This is part of the struggle that the industry in general is facing. There are just so many little factors to take into consideration when building for mobile. This leads to some delay in adoption by publishers.
Eric Enge: What are your thoughts on responsive web design?
Diran: It’s critical in a lot of different ways for content providers as many brands need a flexible format for web design. There are few publishers out there, other than the big brands, who can take advantage of it. Often times, you will get a “Plain Jane” mobile experience because it's the same site getting translated across a number of devices. It’s not a dynamic experience, and it does not respond to screen sizes or abilities of your phone.
There are a lot of services out there that build websites and put together something plain, whether they call it HTML5 or Java, that doesn't matter. The point is that there is not a lot that is actually being built to clearly represent the brand message in a clean, functional and dynamic way. We see this all the time, when we work with advertisers and brands in terms of tagging their sites for benchmarking and things like that. There are so many different variables that either don’t work, are broken, or cannot be fixed because of these legacy issues that have been in place for a number of years.
Eric Enge: The alternative to responsive web design is to have a couple of predefined canned experiences: one which you might call a small screen experience and one a larger screen experience. I see a lot of people moving towards this.
Diran: I would say that that's the most common approach out there. People detect the user agent and if the device has a smaller screen size, they offer a page that has very basic content and functionality depending on whether you’re coming from a tablet or a phone. It's not differentiating between the type of tablet, the screen size, the OS, or anything like that. They’re just creating content that is one-size-fits-all.
I think this is where many of the brand level advertisers are missing out on a lot of opportunities. It also makes sense for certain brands that have too many sub brands to build websites for. If you’re not a P&G and you don't have tons of money to invest into that sort of infrastructure, what do you do when you have to represent 4 or 5 different brands at the same time?
It's especially true when we look at pure content providers and pure publishers, especially if we look at the newspaper and magazine industries who are slowly starting to transform their overall content to digital and to adopt a lot of these template based formats rather than anything that is responsive.
Eric Enge: Let's talk a bit about apps.
Diran: The big trend for apps is that there are just so many of them out there. At a high level, the download rate of apps is increasing fairly quickly, but what is interesting is whether or not that usage or the download of apps is translating to real world usage. We see that an average user downloads approximately 50 apps or so during the course of their phone which is about a 2 year contract, but they tend to use only 7 to 10 applications regularly. The other 40 or so apps remain dormant on their phones.
If you look at retail which happens to be one of those industries where mobile is a really big piece of a pie, we just had a black Friday and several Mondays prior that blew everything away in terms of number of purchases made. When we think about Amazon, we think about the biggest player in retail. They have very robust applications that are available on all mobile platforms, but when you ask people whether they are using the application, most people will say they are using the browser version or the PC version to make those purchases rather than the app.
We do a lot of research to understand that particular level of usage and to determine what are the barriers to purchase in an application are, and to find new ways to make an application easier to use for a consumer. We see lots of data showing people wanting to spend more time in an application because the user experience is much more fluid than a browser. However, when it comes to making that all important conversion, whether it’s submitting personal information or not, people feel a lot more comfortable going through the browser. This is especially true in the larger screen devices.
Eric Enge: If you are going to have an app, there has to be some value added to it being an app experience as opposed to a web experience, right?
Diran: Absolutely. Unless you have a very specific motivation for the user to come back to the application, the application just sits on the phone. So it is on us, as marketers, to help the advertisers and brands become able to create an experience that is compelling not only the first time, but also the second, third, etc., in order for app usage to grow. I just don't think that we have seen enough of that. There are obviously apps that are doing phenomenally well. But then again, for every app that does really well, there are probably ten out there that don't.
Eric Enge: What is it about the app environment that offers an advantage to the publisher?
Diran: Google has a very specific tap strategy in terms of creating functional, usable, fast and reliable applications for their ecosystems. For example, there are apps for Google Maps, Google Docs, Google Drive, Google Plus, Google Chat, Google Voice, etc. This enables them to be not only completely visible on their Android platform, but also on a cross platform level, which is a great strategy.
Microsoft is only recently starting to publish apps that are cross-platform, usable in other respects than just delivering plain content. If you think about the way Microsoft has gone about building an app structure, you'll see the reason why their market share, visibility and brand has dropped, whereas Google's visibility and market share continue to expand from a publisher point of view.
The Microsoft experience is useful because it is a great way to understand how not to do certain things. If you look at one of their most functional applications, Skydrive, which is their equivalent of Google Drive, you’ll see that it has been around for a number of years but is only now getting some of the attention on a cross-platform level. Another example is OneNote, a really cool note taking application, which not a lot of people are using cross-platform because Evernote has had monopoly on that.
Eric Enge: Any insight into how much people are using apps versus websites and how that's grown over time?
Diran: No real hard core numbers, but I think on the top line when we measure the total Internet, we have about 101 million total unique visitors to the top 100 properties that are browser specific, whereas the number of app users is about 103 million that have usage across the top 100 properties. This was for the month of October 2012.
Eric Enge: The kinds of things people search for on mobile devices is different from what you see in regular searches, isn't it?
Diran: Absolutely. The question for mobile devices is more about function and location; it’s a gateway to accomplishing a task. People are much savvier these days in terms of continuing searches on their PC devices and refining that search on their mobile devices. If we look at mobile search pages, both Google and Bing's mobile search results are more action driven. There are a lot more quick links that are available versus the more general, broad descriptions.
One barrier is that we don't know when a user is continuing the same search on their PC versus their tablet device versus their smart phone. It is difficult to create a picture without invading any privacy in terms of understanding what it is that users want to do in terms of search.
Eric Enge: Expanding on the local aspect of this, if I'm in the car, and I'm hungry and I type pizza, the result I want is the pizza shop closest to where I am at this moment.
Diran: Right, absolutely. In mobile search there is a transactional mindset, and in your example, the goal is to get someone to make a call or show up at the pizza shop to spend some money. The conversion actually happens offline. Users have learned to engage with mobile search in this way, and there has been a tremendous growth in requests for data on a hyper-local level.
Eric Enge: The advertising environment on a Smartphone device is very limited. It seems like you have to be one of the top two results, right?
Diran: Absolutely. Again, this is due to the screen size which is a big limitation. People are not going to take more than a few seconds to review the top results and they are definitely not going to go to page 2, 3, or 4 to find what they are looking for.
Eric Enge: Any closing thoughts for us?
Diran: We are definitely in a very interesting phase of our lives in general. Mobile is great to talk about, but the most important thing is to realize that mobile doesn't exist by itself. There is a huge intersection between mobile and social media and of all the other different formats of media that exist and create an overall advertiser's brand. Brands should not just talk about mobile as a silo. Instead they need to view it as part of a converged effort in order to make their brand standout.
Eric Enge: Thank you Diran!
Diran: Absolutely, thank you!
Diran Hafiz is the Mobile Sales Director at comScore, a global leader in digital marketing intelligence. Diran manages key strategic relationships with client-direct advertisers, premium content partners as well as global advertising holding companies. As a media technologist and self-proclaimed geek, Diran believes that marketers and advertisers share a socio-economic and cultural responsibility to create brand messaging that is integrity-driven, and as a result, focuses on the growth and integration of digital marketing methodologies to maximize brand value and impact.