Mobile World Congress 2016 Musings: From Networks & Devices to Apps & Adtech. Will Virtual Reality, Connected Homes and IoT Be Next?

The Verto team attended Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this week, as we’ve done for the last 12 years. MWC is now a flagship consumer electronics show with its device and service debuts, and this year was no different. Lots of product announcements, talks about the current and future state of the industry, and for Verto, many partner and customer meetings.

One of the questions I have been considering for quite some time is the definition of mobile: What does “mobile” really mean today? In the early years of the show, in Cannes and Barcelona, the focus was devices and networks. Mobile communications and associated terminal and network infrastructure were the big topics. Nokia and RIM launched new devices, and Ericsson and Nokia Networks announced 3G networks.

Now, innovation within devices and networks is not that radical anymore. The more interesting developments are happening on the application layer or in the application of mobile networks to new industries. Adtech, apps and entertainment have become increasingly important. And this year, one of the key topics I covered and brainstormed about was IoT and connected environments: connected homes and cities, connected cars and wearables (“connected body” or body-area networks).

The shift in themes, and all of today’s notable players, at the show signify the complexity and speed of change in the industry. If somebody had asked me 12 years ago who the biggest players would be in 2016,  I would have said Nokia and NTT DoCoMo perhaps. But, Nokia lost the device battle, and iMode never emerged outside of Japan. Instead Apple, Google and Facebook gave the most interesting keynotes.

It is increasingly clear that hardware is not the profit center any more. Even Apple has been struggling to convince investors of their future revenue and profit projections. This week, an Indian company claimed to be launching an Android smartphone for $4 – which sounds crazy. Even with the launch of Samsung S7 – their new flagship device – there were no significantly radical or new features unveiled. All of these new devices look more or less the same, and so differentiation does not come from the hardware. The big device vendors are, and wisely so, talking about creating gaming experiences and entertainment content to boost their offerings. And baseline performance is moving forward at rapid pace. ARM expects mobile devices to match gaming console performance by the end of 2017 which showcases the trajectory in processing power.

As I underlined in my speech at a dinner we hosted on Monday for our close partners, customers and friends, most of the innovation is in adtech and apps. Devices are more capable today and work well as platforms for media, but devices themselves are not all that interesting. Elaborating on this transformation, I explained that we have seen accelerated growth for digital media and advertising, and it will only continue to grow, compared to traditional media formats like radio and newspapers. I highlighted on Monday that the global mobile advertising market will hit two significant milestones in 2016. First, it will exceed $100 billion in spending, and second it will account for more than 50% of all digital ad expenditure for the first time ever. Moreover, estimations show that this ad spending will reach $200 billionand mobile advertising will represent 70% of budgets over the next 3 years.

One of the significant steps for Verto this week was the launch of our new App Watch product which provides, for the first time ever, in-depth audience measurement data for mobile apps including reach, unique users, time spent, demographics, retention, churn, in-app activities, advertising, focus in/outs, session lengths and more.

This data is what helps publishers monetize mobile apps and gives advertisers the ability to obtain comparable metrics on apps vs. web sites. The industry needs third-party media measurement data to support and fuel growth in mobile advertising, and at the same time, the tools we launched for App Watch provide granular ways to understand the competitive landscape, device audience acquisition plans, and track app usage trends.

With the release of the App Watch product, we also released our new App Report this week. Some of the highlights include:

  1. U.S. consumers spent more than 10 billion hours on mobile apps in December 2015
  2. 680 apps have at least 1 million users a month today in the U.S. (By comparison, 6 years ago only 10 apps had this number of users.)
  3. On average, 2h 10min of time is spent on apps per user, per day in the U.S.
  4. Facebook, Facebook Messenger and Youtube each have at least 100 million monthly unique users in the U.S.

Beyond the growth of mobile apps, we’re watching how the app economy develops globally, from the battle between the West and East and the role for Europe. Japan’s Line has added many features to its messaging apps that Facebook is only now considering. WeChat had more mobile transactions over the Chinese New Year than Paypal did during all of 2015. WhatsApp delivers 42 billion messages today which is more than double the global daily SMS number! This is why we believe that mobile advertising will offer new formats, e.g. home screen based ads. After all, our data shows that smartphone users unlock their keypad 52 times a day. With all this information and insights, we left Barcelona once again fully inspired (despite our physical fatigue) by this pace of innovation and change.

If you’d like to get a copy of the App Report or learn more about Verto App Watch, please contact us. As an added bonus, when we hear from you, we will share some custom mobile app and games data which will help you understand how you stack up against your competition!