Suddenly, smartphones are looking like a mature market.

The smartphone diffusion curve. (Source: Business Insider)

In the consumer technology world, the pace of product innovation and maturation seems to be getting shorter and shorter.

When the television was introduced, it took decades for it to penetrate more than 90% of U.S. households. Later, when color TVs came on the market, it was years before the majority of households made the switch from black-and-white to color screens.

The dynamics of the mobile phone market illustrate how much the pace of adoption has changed.

Only a few years ago, well-fewer than half of all mobile phones in the market were smartphones. But smartphones rapidly eclipsed those older “feature phones” – so that now only a very small percentage of cellphones in use today are of the feature phone variety.

Now, in just as little time we’re seeing smartphones go from boom to … well, not quite bust.  In fewer than four years, the growth in smartphone sales has slowed from ~30% per year (in 2014) to just 4%.

That’s the definition of a “mature” market.  But it also demonstrates just how successful the smartphone has been in penetrating all corners of the market.

Consider this:  Market forecasting firm Ovum figures that by 2021, the smartphone will have claimed its position as the most popular consumer device of all time, when more than 5 billion of them are expected to be in use.

It’s part of a larger picture of connected smart devices in general, for which the total number in use is expected to double between now and 2021 – from an estimated 8 billion devices in 2016 to around 15 billion by then.

According to an evaluation conducted by research firm GfK, today only around 10% of consumers own either an Amazon Echo or Google Home device, but digital voice assistants are on the rise big-time. These interactive audio speakers offer a more “natural” way than smartphones or tablets to control smart home devices, with thousands of “skills” already perfected that allow them to interact with a large variety of apps.

There’s no question that home devices are the “next big thing,” but with their ubiquity, smartphones will continue to be the hub of the smart home for the foreseeable future.  Let’s check back in another three or four years and see how the dynamics look then.

Cutting the Telephone Cord

ccA new milestone has been reached in the United States:  For the first time, more than half of all American adults live in households with cellphones but no landline telephones.

That’s the key takeaway finding from a recent survey of ~24,000 Americans age 18 and above conducted by market research firm GfK MRI.

This finding  mean that in just six years, the percentage of adults living in cellphone-only households has doubled. In GfK’s 2010 research, the percentage was just 26%.

Not surprisingly, there are significant differences in the findings based on age demographics:

  • Millennials (born 1977 to 1994): ~71% live in cellphone-only households
  • Generation X (born 1965 to 1976): ~55%
  • Boomers (born 1946 to 1964): ~40%
  • Seniors (born before 1946): ~23%

Interestingly, despite their relatively low adoption rate, the percentage of Seniors living in cellphone-only households actually quadrupled over the past six years.

As for an ethnic breakdown, Hispanic Americans are significantly more likely to live free of landline phones compared to the other three major groups:

  • Hispanic Americans: ~67% live in cellphone-only households
  • Asian Americans: ~54%
  • Whites: ~51%
  • African Americans: ~50%

Perhaps surprisingly, the Northeast region of the United States has the lower incidence of cellphone-only households (~39%), compared rates all over 50% in the other three regions. As it turns out, the Northeast has relatively higher levels bundled communication services (TV, Internet, landline and cellphone services), but one suspects that the figures will come into alignment in the next few years and many of those bundled programs bite the dust.

At this rate of change, could we be seeing effectively the end of landline phone service within the next two decades? It seems likely so.

How about you?  Have your cut the phone cord yet?  And did you regret it for even one minute?

Checking messages: First, last and always.

cemIf you think your personal and professional life has become consumed with checking messages ad nauseum, you’re not alone.

Recently, Adestra and Flagship Research surveyed Internet-using Americans for eMarketer to find out just how pervasive the practice of checking messages has become.

The results surprise no one — even if they’re a bit depressing to contemplate.

Asked to cite when their first message check of the day is typically done, here’s what the eMarketer survey found:

  • I check messages first thing, before anything else: ~39% reported
  • After coffee/tea but before breakfast: ~22%
  • After breakfast but before departing for work: ~20%
  • On the way to work: ~4%
  • Once at work: ~8%
  • Later in the day: ~3%
  • Other responses: ~4%

[I was a little surprised to find myself in a distinct minority (checking messages upon arriving at work) … but I suppose when one gets to the office at 07:00 hrs. each workday, as I do, that may be when most others are en route to the office or still at home.]

Not surprisingly, the “check messages before anything else” contingent is more heavily represented by younger people, with over 45% of the survey’s respondents under the age of 35 reporting that they check messages first thing in the day.

The type of messages in question run the gamut from e-mail to text, social media and voicemail. But it’s overwhelmingly e-mail and text messaging apps that smartphone users check first thing in the day:

  • Text messaging: ~67% check this mobile app first
  • E-mail: ~63%
  • Facebook: ~48%
  • Weather app: ~44%
  • Calendar app: ~30%
  • News app: ~21%
  • Games: ~19%
  • Instagram: ~16%
  • Pandora: ~16%
  • Other social media: ~9%
  • Other apps: ~7%

More details on the eMarketer survey can be found here.

What are your message checking practices — and how are they different or similar to these survey results?

This email signature block says it all …

signature areaOver the years, I’ve noticed how signature blocks at the bottom of business e-mails have been getting longer and more elaborate.

Remember the days of simply showing an office address, phone, FAX and e-mail? That disappeared a long time ago.

Why it’s happened is all a function of the many ways people can and do choose to communicate today.

For folks in the marketing and sales field, sometimes the contact options go overboard. Not long ago, I received an e-mail pertaining to a business service pitch. Here’s what the sender had included in the signature area at the bottom of his e-mail message:

  • If you’re a phone person, here’s my mobile number:
  • If you’re a text person, send a message to my cell:
  • If you’re an email person, here’s my address:
  • If you’re an instant message person, here’s my Google ID:
  • If you’re a Skype person, here’s my handle:
  • If you’re a Twitter person, here’s my username:
  • If you’re a Facebook person, here’s my page:
  • If you’re a face-to-face person, here’s my office location:

The only thing missing was Pinterest, and a FAX number …

Seeing this signature block was a stark reminder of the myriad ways people are connecting with their business and personal contacts.

Nothing new in that, of course — but seeing it presented in one big bundle really drove the point home.

Scott Ginsberg
Scott Ginsberg

Later, I discovered that this litany of contact options was first popularized four or five years ago by the business author and blogger Scott Ginsberg. Evidently, others have now picked up and run with the same concept.

Taken together, it’s no wonder people feel busier today than ever before, despite all of the ways in which digital technology purports to simplify communication and make it more efficient.

I wouldn’t want to go back to the old days … but at times, there’s a certain attraction to the idea of not having to be “always on” in “so many places,” no?

The “App Gap”: Mobile Apps Overtake All Others in Digital Media Consumption

Mobile apps overtaking other digital media consumptionIt was bound to happen.

The bulk of time Americans are spending on digital media … is now happening on mobile applications.

According to data released this past week by Internet and digital analytics firm comScore, the combined time that people expend using digital media breaks down as follows:

  • Mobile apps: ~52% of all time spent online
  • Mobile web surfing: ~8%
  • Desktop: ~40%

Apps are clearly in the driver’s seat – particularly in the mobile realm.  In fact, comScore estimates that apps account for 7 out of every 8 minutes spent on mobile devices.

On smartphones, the app usage is ~88% of all time spent, whereas on tablets, it’s ~82%.

This doesn’t mean that app usage is spread evenly throughout the population of people who are online.  Far from it.  Only about one-third of people download one app per month or more.  (The average smartphone user is downloading about three apps per month.)

The inevitable conclusion:  App usage is highly concentrated among a subset of the population.

Indeed, the 7% most active smartphone owners account for almost half of all the download activity during any given month.

But even if most users aren’t downloading all that many apps … they are certainly engaged with the ones they do have on their devices:  comScore reports that nearly 60% are using apps every day.

Here again, the data show that usage levels are much higher among smartphone users than they are with tablet users (where only about one quarter of the people use apps daily).

Where they’re spending their time is also interesting.  Well over 40% of all app time spent on smartphones is with a user’s single most used app.  (Facebook takes top honors — of course.)

And if you combine social networking, games and Internet radio, you’ve pretty much covered the waterfront when it comes to app usage.

When you think about it, none of this should come as much surprise.  We’re a mobile society – hourly, daily, monthly and yearly.  It only makes sense that most online time is going to be happening when people are away from their home or their desk, now that it’s so easy to be connected so easily from even the tiniest mobile devices.

And speaking of “easy” … is it really any wonder why people would flock to apps?  It’s less hassle to open up an app for news or information rather than searching individual sites via mobile.  People simply don’t have the patience for that anymore.

Internet Properties: No Longer an American Monopoly

The amount of translated content is also showing big-time growth.

languageAccording to an analysis by venture capitalist and Internet industry specialist Mary Meeker, in 2013 nine of the ten top global Internet properties were U.S.-based.

For the record, they were as follows (in order of ranking):

  • Google
  • Microsoft
  • Facebook
  • Yahoo
  • Wikipedia
  • Amazon
  • Ask
  • Glam Media
  • Apple

Only China-based Tencent cracked the Top Ten from outside the United States — and it just barely made it in as #10 in the rankings.

And yet … the same Top 10 Internet properties had nearly 80% of their users located outside America.

With such a disparity between broad-based Internet usage and concentrated Internet ownership, the picture was bound to change.

And boy, has it changed quickly:  Barely a year later — as of March 2014 — the Top 10 listing now contains just six American-based companies.

Ask, Glam Media and Apple have all fallen off the list, replaced by three more China-based properties:  Alibaba, Baidu and Sohu.

Paralleling this trend is another one:  a sharp increase in the degree to which businesses are providing content in multiple languages.

For websites that offer some form of translated content, half of them are offering it in at least six languages.  That’s double the number of languages that were being offered a year earlier.

And for a quarter of these firms, translated content is available in 15 or more languages.

What are the most popular languages besides English?  Spanish, French, Italian and German are popular — not a great surprise there.  But other languages that are becoming more prevalent include Portuguese, Chinese, Japanese and Korean.

In fact, the average volume of translated content has ballooned nearly 90% within just the past year.

The growing accuracy of computer-based translation modules — including surprisingly good performance in “idiomatic” language — is certainly helping the process along.

Moreover, when a major site like Facebook reports that its user base in France grew from 1.4 million to 2.4 million within just three months of offering its French-language site, it’s just more proof that the world may be getting smaller … but native language still remains a key to maximizing business success.

It’s one more reminder that for any company which hopes to compete in a transnational world, offering content in other languages isn’t just an option, but a necessity in order to build and maintain a strategic advantage.

Charting Social Media’s “Maturity Continuum”

Social Media lineupAs social media has crept more and more into the fabric of life for so many people, it’s only natural that social scientists and marketers are thinking about the wider implications.

One of these thinkers is someone whose viewpoints I respect a good deal.  Social media and online/search über-strategist Gord Hotchkiss has come up with a way of looking at social media vehicles that he dubs the “Maturity Continuum.”

According to Hotchkiss, the Maturity Continuum is made up of four levels of increasing social media “stickiness” — meaning how relevant and important the social platforms are to people’s daily lives and routines.

Specifically, these four levels are:

The Fad Phase — This is when people start using a social media platform because it’s the bright shiny thing … and “everyone else” in their circle is doing so, too.  This dynamic is commonly found among early adopters — you know, the folks who try out new things because … they’re new.

Gord Hotchkiss
Gord Hotchkiss

Of course, early adopters don’t necessarily stick around.  A new social platform has to have some sort of “there there” – to deliver some measure of functional benefit – or else it won’t keep fad users around for long.

Also important at this early stage is the aspect of uniqueness and novelty — which is always important among this group of people who tend to be higher on the ego and narcissism scale.

Making a Statement — If a social platform makes it through the pure novelty gauntlet, it continues to be used because it makes a statement about the user.  In the case of social media, it’s often as much about the technology as it is the functionality.

Thinking about a platform like FourSquare, here you have social tool that’s probably at this level of maturity.  With FourSquare, there may be a few utilitarian reasons for using it — getting vouchers or other “free stuff” from restaurants and bars — but it’s probably a lot more about “making that statement.”

A Useful Tool — At this point on the Maturity Continuum, here’s where a social platform breaks into a more practical realm.  Going beyond the novelty and ego aspects, users find that the platform is a highly beneficial tool from a functionality standpoint — perhaps better than any other one out there for facilitating certain activities.

Thinking about a social platform like LinkedIn in this context, it’s easy to see how that particular one has done so well.

A Platform of Choice — This is the highest level of social media maturity, where users engage — and continue to engage — with a social platform because they have become so familiar with it.

At this level, it becomes quite a challenge to dislodge a social platform, even if “newer, better” choices come along.  Once social habits have become established and a large critical mass of users is established, it can be very difficult to change the behavior.

Facebook is “Exhibit A” in this regard:  Despite near-weekly reports of issues and controversies about the platform, people continue to hang in there with it.

Thinking about other social platforms like Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, SnapChat and Pinterest, it’s interesting to speculate on where they currently fall on the “maturity meter.”

I’d venture to say that YouTube has made it to the highest level … SnapChat is still residing in the early “fad” stage … while Pinterest and Instagram are transitioning between “making a statement” and being “a useful tool.”

Where Twitter resides … is anyone’s guess.  I for one am still wondering just how Twitter fits into the greater scheme of social — and how truly “consequential” it is in the fabric of most people’s social lives.

What are your perspectives on the Maturity Continuum in social media?  If you have opinions one way or the other about the long-term staying power of certain platforms, please share them with other readers here.