December 28, 2012

The Crystal Ball – Looking Back

By Hisham Isa, Vice President (Marketing)

For the mobile industry, 2012 is the year that the Smartphone took centre stage, a time when mobile commerce came of age in many markets and when developers worked hard to overcome the platform and hardware fragmentation that has come to define our industry.

Yes, this is the time of year when writers and businesses take stock of the current environment and make predictions about the year ahead.

First, though, I'd like to take a look back at BuzzCity's predictions for 2012 and see how we fared. Seems only fair.

#1 HTML5 is here

Our first prediction last year was that brands and developers would be forced to accept OS and device fragmentation by making the mobile internet the first port of call. This has definitely been the case as the plethora of operating systems and devices can still be confusing for many companies.

Yet at the same time, we wrote, “Beyond 2012, watch out for HTML5 which provides users with a rich app-like experience without having to download an app.”

Forrester Research reports that 75% of web browsers are now HTML5 compatible. Plus most phones now support browsers that can view HTML5. (Here's a good list that shows which HTML5 features are supported by platform and browser.)

The Financial Times and New York Times are using HTML5 for their mobile apps; Facebook and LinkedIn have adopted the technology as well, though Mark Zuckerburg later panned the technology saying that FB bet “too much” on its use and that it was his company's “biggest mistake”.

Be that as it may, software developers have adopted HTML5 en masse and most phones now support browsers that can view it. Kendo UI, which admittedly has a vested interest in HTML5's success (as John Koetsier points out in VentureBeat), reports that 94% of developers are either already using HTML5 or plan to start using it in 2013. Two-thirds of the 4000-plus developers surveyed replied that they are already working with HTML5.

#2 Tablets are their own medium

There's little debate about this anymore, but a year ago a lot of pundits worried that tablets might cannabalise the markets for phones and PCs. Now, it's common for consumers in many countries to use multiple devices. A word of caution though - different strategies may apply between phones and tablets because the context of use is different.

#3 Coupons go mobile

A year ago, Groupon's share price was already 'in the gutter', but at US$20 per share, it was still substantially higher than its recent value (less than US$5 per share). We didn't make any particular forecast about Groupon, but we did say that coupons would make a comeback – driven by mobile fulfillment.

Mobile coupons are indeed prevalent. But what we didn't write is that their use would be driven by QR codes. These mobile barcodes are becoming ubiquitous.

In the US, Target is using in-store QR codes to promote toys, allowing consumers to buy popular products even if they are out-of-stock in a particuar store (shipping is free when purchased via mobile) and Home Depot is placing QR codes in mailers promoting weekly deals. In Singapore, m-commerce jumped seven-fold, thanks in part to a campaign by PayPal and transit company SMRT, which collaborated to aggregate merchant coupons via QR offerings. This campaign is also a great example of integrated advertising as it combines outdoor and mobile ads.

Photo courtesy of
QR codes are also being adopted wholeheartedly as a way to share information.  In a lot of countries, tourist attractions are adopting the technology to share videos and more detailed stories than appear on their placards. 

Take a look, for example, at this photo which I took in Paris near the Saint Jean-Baptiste Church:

Retailers are also using QR codes to provide consumers with additional information. HP is placing them on printers to provide access to user reviews; Starbucks puts them on coffee bags so consumers can learn about recommended roasts.

This increased use of QR codes in 2012 demonstrates how mobile is becoming an increasingly important part of purchasing decisions.

#4 Small Businesses Gravitate to Mobile Social Media

Across the globe, consumers are increasingly getting product information via mobile social media. This trend has solidified over the past year as more and more small businesses see the medium as an engaging cost-effective way to interact with customers. In The Philippines and South Africa, BuzzCity's surveys show that more consumers get product info from social media than from search engines. (In The Philippines, 44% use social media vs. 28% for search engines; in South Africa, it's 38% vs. 36%. Note that these numbers are not exclusive, a lot of people use both.) Globally, search engines still have the edge, but mobile social media is gaining with 35% of consumers using mobile social media to find out prices and other info versus 44% for search engines.

5. M-Commerce Comes of Age in Emerging Markets

Without question, in parts of Africa, in South and Southeast Asia, mobile commerce is now mainstream.

"In banking and finance, the big ideas in cashless transfers and mobile, flexible exchanges are not to be found in Geneva or London or New York," Ken Banks writes for National Geographic. "A revolution in mobile money transfer has occurred, but not in these financial centres. Instead, it’s happened in Kenya."

In this East African nation of 43 million people, almost anyone you meet has used a phone to make a transaction. Over 90 percent of the population has a phone (up from just 3 percent in 1999) and 96% of mobile phone users has used a handset make a mobile payment or for m-banking. Kenyans use their phones to pay electric bills, taxi fares, get cash or even buy produce and other essentials in rural markets.

Kenya may be ahead of the curve, but it is far from alone.

Globally, about one in four people say that they have purchased a gift via mobile. But in South Asia, the ratio is one in two. 

Source:  BuzzCity Survey, November 2012
Similarly, more than half of the mobile population in Indonesia, Ghana and Nigeria has used a handset to make a financial transaction.

2012 in Review

So while in our industry, the smartphone took centre stage these past twelve months, the mobile industry itself matured and became more and more a part of people's daily lives.  From Indian and African villages to the streets of Cairo, Rio and New York City, people are increasingly using apps, mobisites, QR codes and mobile social media as a source of information, entertainment and commerce.

From all of us at BuzzCity, I'd like to wish you a happy and prosperous 2013!

Coming Soon

Our predictions for the mobile industry in 2013!