The Biggest Mobile Trends and Stories of 2013


In August 2012, Google published its famous Multiscreen Study, which stated that for the average user, cycling between smartphone, tablet, and desktop throughout the day is the norm. In hindsight this seems obvious, but at the end of 2012 it was a revelation; this landmark publication made us realize it’s really about multiple screens, lots of them, and often several at once.

A little over a year later, we’ve accepted that we live in a multi-screen world and that mobile means more than smartphones. Marketers are actually planning their strategies for smartwatches, social machines, and Google Glass, and thinking a lot more about content in context across multiple interfaces.

Before long, the word mobile might go away altogether as the lines blur between our online and offline lives. But for now, let’s use it to put this past year into perspective.

The Essential Mobile Numbers

2012 wasn’t a bad year for mobile itself – data traffic from smartphones and tablets grew 69 percent over the previous year, and mobile data hit 13 percent of all global Internet traffic, according to Stat Counter. Without question, 2013 will prove to be much, much bigger than 2012. It might take a little more time for us to get the full picture of how this year played out, but we still have a few data points to work with, such as:

  • Global smartphone data hit 20 percent of all Internet traffic as of December 2013. (ComputerWorld)
  • Tablets are only 5 percent of global traffic but given adoption rates, are likely to account for a significantly bigger share next year. (StatCounter)
  • One out of 5 global citizens owns a smartphone and one out of 17 owns a tablet (Business Insider)
  • 64.7 percent of U.S. wireless subscribers own a smartphone (Nielsen), 35 percent of U.S. consumers over 16 own a tablet, and 24 percent own an eReader. (Pew)
  • Mobile devices accounted for 40 percent of all online traffic on Black Friday and one-third of all online traffic on Cyber Monday. Those numbers are all the more impressive when you consider that it was 4 percent in 2010, making for an increase of 700 percent in just three years. (IBM Digital Analytics Benchmark).

So mobile accounts for at least 20 percent of our online time (for now). But the really important point is how fast it all happened; according to NPD tablets are expected to outsell laptops and desktops in Q4 2013. That’s 46 percent year-over-year growth in the U.S. Tablets aren’t expected to outsell laptops and desktops globally until 2015 (IDC). Of course, smartphones overtook feature phone sales in the US a long time ago (Q1 2013 to be precise) and with 17 million smartphones and tablets unboxed last Christmas, it’s safe to say we’ll be ending this year an even higher note.

Blackberry Continued to Fight for Survival

Blackberry spent 2013 waging a battle to recapture its once-loyal fan base. Renamed “The Blackberry Company” early in the year, its bold moves including hiring musician Alicia Keyes as Creative Director and rolling out the first Blackberry 10 OS smartphones.

But it was all too little, too late. The company began exploring a sale by August. A $965 million dollar quarterly loss left little choice.

By November, CEO Thorsten Heins was ousted and former Sybase exec John Chen stepped in as chief executive, taking the company off the market in a last attempt to turn things around with $1 billion in private investment. But with third quarter projections looking dismal, it seems increasingly likely that the brand is headed for the dustbin of mobile device history.

Microsoft Made an Effort to Change With the Times

In August, CEO Steve Balmer announced plans to cede control to a board-selected replacement in 2014. However, before leaving, he approved significant investments in Microsoft’s mobile assets, including a 7 billion dollar purchase of Nokia and oversaw the successful release of Windows 8.1, arguably the first mobile-first multi-screen operating system.

While Microsoft still lags far behind Apple and Android, slow and steady growth of Windows device shipments was evident by Q2 2013 with Microsoft coming in third for smartphone marketshare at 3.7 percent and third for tablets at 3.4 percent.

Windows may still have its work cut out for it with tablets – the Surface has its share of flaws – but with Nokia’s design resources now in house, it’s possible we’ll see some improvements. Odds are they will hold their own in 2014 with a tiny but respectable slice of the market.

Wearables Entered the Realm of Reality

The Glass Explorer program was opened as a limited beta in February 2013, with applicants willingly paying $1,500 for the privilege of test-driving Google Glasses. And while it’s a rare occurrence to see anyone actually sporting a pair in real life unless you work in Silicon Valley or Silicon Alley, Google co-founder Sergey Brin hopes to bring it to the general public in 2014 (possibly through partners like Warby Parker?).

It’s likely that wearable will catch on faster with more conventional form factors – Google filed a smartwatch patent and devices from Qualcomm, Sony, and Samsung, along with products from myriad lesser-known brands such as the Pebble, entered the market over the course of year.

The iWatch remains a rumor so far, but the inclusion of Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) into iOS7 signals that an Apple smartwatch and other wearable peripherals are likely to debut soon; BLE is tailor-made for sending data from device to device without creating a drain on the battery. If the iWatch does debut in 2014, it will be the catalyst that wearables need to become truly mainstream in short order.

AdWords Enhanced Campaigns Forced Us to go All-in on Mobile

In February, Google confirmed a bold move that had been rumored to be coming for some time – mobile was to become an integral part of all AdWords campaigns.

The announcement wasn’t enthusiastically received by everyone – many brands felt that enhanced campaigns would through their finely tuned strategies off-course. Others that had shied away from mobile in the past due to poor ROI or lack of mobile readiness bemoaned being forced into something they weren’t prepared for. But like it or not, by the end of July, all advertisers were opted in for smartphones, desktops, and tablets across the board.

Despite workarounds to create mobile-focused campaigns, there’s still a fair amount to grumble about – the inability to separately target tablets, for example. On the bright side, Google’s move forced many of us to stop delaying the inevitable and get started with a multi-screen optimization strategy and they deserve credit for that.

‘Social Machines’ and ‘Internet of Things’ Became Part of the Lexicon

We got a glimpse of all kinds of new digital experiences this year, from smart refrigerators and driverless cars, to fully remote controlled homes, all of which have yet to materialize in a real-life way for most of us. This year, however, it became commonly accepted that all of these things are possible and none of them are very far off.

Marketers and consumers alike have accepted that digital isn’t just about Internet appliances any longer and that many of the currently static objects in our lives will become conduits for sending and receiving data.

IDC predicts that the connected and convergent internet of things will generate 4.8 trillion dollars globally by 2020 and will create a whole new of marketplace of services and jobs. For now, nascent social machines like the Nest thermometer and the GlowCap medication system are giving us a tiny glimpse into the future of our always-on existence.

Snapchat Made Us Think Differently About Messaging – and Privacy

For all the buzz this year about SMS dying a slow death, Facebook’s $3 billion bid for Snapchat showed us that short messaging isn’t going away. On the contrary, it’s just beginning to ramp up.

The more connected we become, the more we’re looking for efficient, one-to-one and one-to many means of short communications and we’re expecting these capabilities to be built into our devices, online tools, and social channels. And we expect, if not the total privacy of SnapChat, a much higher degree over control over who sees what.

Leap Motion Made Us Think Differently About Navigation

Developers and super-geeks have been extremely excited over Leap Motion since it appeared but the general public didn’t quite know what to make of it. The ability to navigate a screen without touching it seems like a novelty on desktops and laptops and completely unnecessary on mobile devices but HP is betting that gestural navigation will take off by embedding Leap into its new Envy 17 laptops.

It’s possible that as we get lazier and lazier, pointing will seem like the way to go on every device, but Leap will really come into its own as it becomes a standard feature of larger screens. It will add unbeatable ease-of-use to navigating in-store displays, billboards, and digital out of home media of all shapes and sizes and it’s where we’ll start to see this technology take off in 2014.


Believe it or not, this is still the early days, your chance to catch up and figure out your whole game plan for a mobile, multi-screen world. By the end of 2014, this will all be very old news.

Image Credit: The Boy Genius Report

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