Going Mobile

In 1971 the Who sang: I can pull up by the curb, I can make it on the road, I can stop in any street, talk with people that we meet, Goin' mobile, Keep me movin'. In today's world, your business has to keep movin' too. Trying to keep up with your competitors can be a big challenge. The most important thing you can do is make sure your website is Mobile Responsive.

The year 2002 was a turning-point for the telephone, invented 126 years earlier. For the first time, the number of mobile phones overtook the number of fixed-line ones, making the telephone a predominantly mobile technology. During 2013 the same thing happened to the internet, just 44 years after its ancestor, ARPANET, was first switched on. The number of internet-connected mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablet computers, exceeded the number of desktop and laptop personal computers (PCs) in use, according to figures from Morgan Stanley, an investment bank. There is not a direct correlation between devices and people, because many people use multiple devices, both fixed and mobile. But IDATE, a consultancy, reports that the number of people accessing the internet via mobile devices has exceeded the number using fixed-line connections.

That does not mean that mobile devices will displace PCs altogether. The rise of mobile phones, after all, did not mean that fixed-line phones stopped working, even if their number is now in decline. Although mobile devices and users will soon be more numerous, for the time being they will account for a smaller volume of traffic and fewer minutes of overall use than PC-based browsing. Yet the centre of gravity of the internet will have shifted. For years, mobile access to the internet was a poor relation: the net was a medium that was chiefly accessed via PCs with large screens, perhaps with a cut-down version or an app for mobile devices. As mobile devices have become more popular and more capable, however, they have come to be seen as a far more promising platform.

Investors have been piling into mobile start-ups: more venture capital went into mobile firms in 2011 than in any year since 2001, says Rajeev Chand of Rutberg & Company, an investment bank in San Francisco. Instagram, a photo-sharing app acquired by Facebook for $730m, was built as a mobile-only service. Mobile companies received $3.9 billion, or 46% of venture capital invested, in the first half of 2012, compared with 17% two years ago. “Our numbers support the view that the internet is becoming mobile-first,” says Mr Chand.

All this will have far-reaching consequences for technology companies, which are being divided into winners and losers by the growing significance of mobile devices. The biggest winner in all this, without question, is Apple. Its iPad dominates the fast-growing market for tablet computers, and its iPhone accounts for nearly three-quarters of the profits of the mobile-phone industry, despite accounting for less than 20% of global handset sales. Apple’s supremacy in mobile devices has made it the world’s most valuable listed company.
The biggest winner in all this, without question, is Apple

The biggest losers are also obvious: the giants of the PC era such as Dell, HP and Microsoft, which seem to have missed the boat on mobile; mobile-device makers such as Nokia and RIM, which were too slow to put the internet at the heart of their products; and games-console makers such as Sony and Nintendo, which are suffering as gaming goes mobile too.

Most companies, however, are somewhere in the middle. The question now is how easily they can shift their business models towards mobile. Twitter is well on its way: a majority of users of its microblogging service already use it from mobile devices. Amazon, eBay and other online retailers are also well placed, since a mobile device means you can shop from anywhere. Hence Amazon’s Kindle range of mobile devices: they are really shops that fit in your pocket.

As well as reshaping the technology industry, the rise of the mobile internet will also transform the way people use and perceive the internet. Mobile telephony meant that instead of calling a place you could call a person. Similarly, having long been seen as a separate place, accessed through the portal of a PC screen, the internet is fast becoming an extra layer overlaid on reality, accessed by a device that is always with you (and may eventually be part of you). In the coming years that will be the most profound change of all.

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