At the end of this year, Forrester expects mobile Internet penetration to reach 17% in Western Europe — the same adoption rate for the PC Internet a decade ago. At that time, mobile phone penetration was still below the 40% threshold and mobile shops were opening at every high-street corner. Companies were only starting to launch their web presence and to anticipate the impact of the Web. Operator-branded mobile Internet solutions would only launch 3 years after and 3G in 2003/2004.
10 years after, the mobile Internet is reaching critical mass and a virtuous mobile Internet cycle is kicking off. Consumers who have a flat-rate data bundle spend more and more time on the Internet from their mobile phones, brands begin to launch their mobile Web presence to monetize these growing audiences and engage with their customers via more relevant mobile content and services, which in turn attracts more and more consumers to unlimited mobile Internet tariffs.
The current economic climate will lengthen handset renewal cycles, foster the development of low-cost offerings, and boost the uptake of SIM-only contracts. Operators are likely to postpone major investments in new networks such as 4G / Long-Term Evolution, despite early trials and commercialization in the Nordics. However, it will only slightly reduce the pace of growth for those elements that stimulate mobile Internet usage: 3.5G and Internet-centric mobile phones as well as all-you-can-eat data plans will be widely available in the next five years. That's the reason why Forrester expects mobile Internet to grow to 39% by the end of 2014. That's a lower end point than for the PC Internet in 2004, but the growth curve per se looks quite the same.
I published my first report on mobile social networks 2 years ago (see here) at a time when Facebook audience was "only" around 50 million unique monthly visitors. At that time MySpace was a paid-for and exclusive experience on Vodafone-Live and Bebo was about to launching a mobile version. Needless to say lots has happened in the last 2 years.
Numerous acquisitions and parternships took place between the likes of Facebook, MySpace, Bebo, Twitter, Hyves and with handset manufacturers / mobile operators. Several mobile-only communities (AirG, peperonity, itsmy.com, buzzcity...) have gained traction and there is plenty of innovation in that space. INQ generated lots of media coverage and interest by lauching its so-called "Facebook phone" and plans to launch new devices. I am not sure what the latest Facebook mobile stats are but not that long ago rougly 10% of the worldwide installed base of FB users had registered to the mobile version. Even more significantly, the GSMA announced a few months ago that UK mobile consumers who access Facebook via their mobile phone spend, on average, 24 minutes on the site daily, just shy of the 27.5 minutes that PC-based Internet users spend daily on Facebook; mobile users of Facebook average 3.3 visits per day versus 2.3 visits per day from PC users.
Today CourseSmart, a joint venture of five of the biggest textbook publishers, is launching an iPhone app to augment its Web subscription service for eTextbooks. Its subscription service offers access to more than 7,000 textbooks, at an average of 50% off print prices. Currently, CourseSmart has a few hundred thousand student subscribers, out of a potential addressable market of 13 million US college students (they only target higher education, not K-12, for now).
The iPhone app is nice, with a snappy thumbnail browse feature. It's not something you'd read on, per se, but offers easy access to look up something, search for something, or access your notes. Having the option of mobile access will undoubtedly increase the appeal of CourseSmart's subscription service, assuming the company is successful at marketing the new feature.
Currently, CourseSmart's content isn't integrated into the Kindle or other dedicated reading devices; this app marks its first move into increasing access to eTextbooks on any kind of mobile device. Maintaining print-identical formatting and pagination is a crucial aspect of its product; eReading devices aren't ready to support this type of content yet, but the iPhone is a move that makes sense.