Mobile Technology

Vox pop: when was the year of mobile?


By Stephen Lepitak, -

November 7, 2018 | 10 min read

We checked in with mobile experts from around the world for their take on whether we ever did actually have a definitive ‘year of mobile’.

Regina Goh, APAC managing director, Blis

It depends on what perspective we are looking at. From the consumer standpoint, I believe the ‘year of mobile’ happened at least a decade ago when touchscreen phones were made possible at a scalable and accessible level across the world, thanks to Apple’s launch of the iPhone in 2007 and HTC’s first Android phone hitting the market in 2008.

From the advertisers’ point of view, it was definitely an annual affair for industry folks around south-east Asia to gather and often ask ‘is this is the year of mobile, yet?’. I believe the evolution took a slow pace over the last 10 years from advertisers asking, ‘what about mobile?!’ to ‘why mobile?’ to today’s prevailing demand of ‘how, and how much?’ to embrace mobile. Based on our experience over the last 18 months, and with mobile ad spend surpassing desktop for the first time ever, I believe the recognition of mobile finally happened in early 2017. Now that we’re finally here, it’s no longer just a ‘how?’ With the enablement of programmatic and cross-device technology, it’s ‘how to do it properly?’

The spin-off is that mobile is being recognized beyond just a platform. It is a full-fledged discourse on mobility, data and enabling programmatic to leverage the real potential of the platform.

Guillaume Larrieu, EMEA head of mobile, ad platforms, Oath

I’d say 2013, the first year smartphone sales finally surpassed feature phone sales. That brought tremendous mobile branding experiences at a truly global scale for advertisers.

Gavin Stirrat, consultant, GJS Media

The year of mobile has sadly come and gone. We were probably at peak mobile around 2014, but the shifts in spend to programmatic, and a lack of mobile strategies in programmatic from most big brands, mean that the majority of advertising we see on mobile is performance. There are exceptions to this, and there are decent amounts of mobile-specific spending through ‘managed buys’, but in an ever increasingly programmatic world, the challenges of making the most of mobile specific opportunities has fallen lower down the list of priorities as brands focus much more effort on managing brand safety, limiting fraud and managing costs.

Ilicco Elia, head of mobile, Deloitte Digital

This may be an obvious answer, but we have not yet hit the ‘year of mobile’.

I first heard the phrase back when I was delivering news via AvantGo to Palm V PDAs in 1999. We believed back then that we had access to, and it was marketed as, a ‘seamless sideloading experience’, which now obviously looks like an oxymoron.

We have yet to even scratch the surface of the influence a supercomputer in your pocket will have on civilization. As experiences continue to improve, the word mobile will become synonymous with ‘personal’ and it will influence everything and everyone you interact with.

The ‘year of mobile’ will be the first year in which your ‘phone’ makes a decision on your behalf with your best interests at heart.

Jack Withey, digital channels performance manager, Barclaycard

2018 will be the ‘year of mobile’ in general, until 2019 comes around. Every year since 2012 has been the new ‘year of mobile’. The leaps we have seen every year since 2012 lead me to believe this will be the case for many years to come. Mobile video, augmented reality and improvements in multi-channel attribution will be the big areas that will truly affect the customer’s interaction with mobile this year, and I’m sure more groundbreaking technology will come into play in the coming years.

The same can be said for search. Since mobile searches overtook desktop searches in 2015 we have seen some massive improvements in mobile, with Google introducing accelerated mobile pages. And the fact that 2018 will see the implementation of the mobile first index alongside improvements in AI and machine learning for mobile, shows the rise of mobile is not going to slow down.

James Hilton, global chief executive, M&C Saatchi Mobile

The rise, and subsequent dominance, of mobile has been signposted for some time and it was always a case of when, not if, mobile would overtake desktop. Arguably, there has been no fixed ‘year of mobile’. Rather, this is the ‘decade of mobile’.

The big shift that must first happen in 2018 is that mobile should no longer be viewed as a channel and instead be treated as the default view for all digital. Mobile-first has been a media buzz phrase for years now, however it is still far from the de facto approach for most brands.

Mobile-first simply must be the way that all digital channels are approached. Search, display, video, e-commerce, CRM performance, web: everything digital should be planned, designed and executed with the mobile consumer front of mind – a necessity now more than ever.

Jeff Ratner, global chief media officer, iCrossing PR

The ‘year of mobile’ came and went without much fanfare. While the industry had been waiting for this milestone since 2010, when the turning point came, it was barely acknowledged. While Geoff Ramsey of eMarketer may have trumpeted spending in excess of $100m in 2016 from high up on Mt Media, it was drowned out by new planning and buying strategies. We moved from buying defined channels to datainfused audience buying and screen agnostic approaches. As consumers moved to best screen available fluidity for content consumption and time spent so did ad spend.

As eMarketer projects in 2018 that mobile will account for 63.3% of digital and 24.3% of total media ad spending, it is less likely to be bought directly as ‘mobile’ and more likely programmatic spend that is delivered through mobile channels. While there are certainly mobile-only campaigns, and, for specific efforts, plans will over-index mobile spend, the ‘year of mobile’ was quickly replaced by the ‘year of audience over channel’.

Siddarth Correya, APAC managing director, SelectMedia

Among the numerous curiosities of digital advertising, the one that refuses to go away is the decade-long ritual of dubbing every year the ‘year of mobile’. So, have we hit a peak in mobile?

Let’s break this into two threads. Advertisers want eyeballs and reach as fundamental when they allocate investments. The most ubiquitous digital media platforms today are primarily accessed via mobile, and in countries like Indonesia via mobile exclusively. So that media plan comprising search and social is already a ‘mobile plan’.

There is an opportunity to create mobile-only campaigns on platforms which are singularly accessed via mobile – chat and messaging, mobile games and maps to name a few. However, this requires a significant shift from the ‘lets slap a few banners on and see what happens’ approach. We need to shift the conversation from the year of mobile to what we earn from mobile. That is, cleaner data, better content designed for mobile and measurement to gauge the efficacy of the medium.

Richard Downey, global director, mobile, The Specialist Works

I’ve given this question a fair bit of thought over the past year or so and the only answer I am comfortable giving is that every year since 2007 has been the ‘year of mobile’. Of course, in the marketing world there are milestones such as Google buying a tiny Palo Alto start up called Android in 2007, or when Facebook introduced its app install ads in 2012, transforming the mobile app advertising landscape forever. Or maybe the ‘year of mobile’ was 2016, when mobile web usage overtook desktop web usage for the first time. But if we remove ourselves from our marketing bubble for a second and look at the transformative effect mobile has had on the planet as a whole, then other, more important milestones emerge. India notched up its billionth mobile phone subscriber in 2016, and many millions of these subscribers live in rural communities that had never before had a telephone of any kind. So the ‘year of mobile’ is all of those mentioned and no doubt will be all of the forthcoming years as well.

Jo Coombs, chief executive officer, OgilvyOne UK

It’s impossible to choose a single year as the pinnacle for mobile when it’s undoubtedly been an entire decade of smartphone dominance. 2007 changed the way we connect forever with the launch of the first iPhone. What followed was the evolution of social media and apps, all of which provided an opportunity for individuals to connect, share and explore at a pace and depth we couldn’t have foreseen. For brands and marketers, it’s provided an ever-changing landscape to create entertainment, channels to converse and evidently shape modern day life with the quest for convenience constant. Fast forward to today and we are at the height of smartphone penetration, with what is ostensibly a global duopoly between Apple and Android services. The next couple of years could be the most exciting yet as we see that battle play out, voice becomes more dominant and AR finally becomes mainstream.

Gela Fridman, managing director, technology, Huge

2014 was the year that mobile devices peaked and plateaued in terms of basic form and functionality, app store maturity and user expectations. But 2020 will be the real ‘year of mobile’ when 5G catalyzes the next generation of mobile experiences, enabling seamless and direct interaction between brands and consumers and changing the definition of mobile from what happens on a small screen in your hand to what the device in your pocket activates and enables in the world around you on your behalf.

Ryan Hall, managing director, creative product, Karmarama

Mobile phones have quickly been taken for granted as much as electricity or central heating. We really don’t remember quite what life was like before they existed. And no one expected it to be like this. As the technology and network infrastructure have evolved, the mobile phone has been on a journey. And, arguably, can we definitively say that the ‘year of mobile’ has happened?

When mobile phones were introduced they were viewed as an exclusive form of telephone service that might possibly suit certain mobile workforces, such as craftsmen, photographers and repairmen. The Motorola DynaTAC 8000X was launched in 1983 to the tune of $3,995 and could hold 30 contacts.

When Steve Jobs showed the Apple iPhone to the world, the whole game changed. With its multi-touch screen and rich, interactive, gestural apps, followed by the launch of the App Store only two years later, this device has had an incredible impact on many levels.

The internet of things has added a further dimension to the future of mobile. It will be one of hundreds of connected smart devices in the home by the year 2025. And as the journey of mobile continues, I believe the best is yet to come.

Karen Boswell, head of innovations, Adam & Eve DDB

1998, the year Snake was first preloaded on to Nokia phones. Obvs.

OK, seriously? The ‘year of mobile’ was 2014 because that was the year that mobile inarguably became the ubiquitous extension of the human arm: the term ‘smartphone zombie’ was first established (China even constructed a dedicated smartphonesidewalk), ‘tech neck’ spiked, social media led to a surge of streaming on mobile that overtook desktop by almost a factor of two and smartphone users overtook desktop for the first time.

This feature first appeared in The Drum's March issue, which focused on mobile technology.

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