6.1 billion smartphone users by 2020: What it means for mobile apps

By @chelean on
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IN PHOTO: A Samsung Galaxy S5 smartphone is held next to a logo of Apple in this September 23, 2014 illustration photo in Sarajevo. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic

To say that smartphones are common these days is an understatement. There are already 2.6 billion smartphone users all over the world at present. But that number is set to almost triple by 2020 at 6.1 billion users.

According to the latest Ericsson Mobility Report , 70 percent of the world's population will have a smartphone by 2020. The number of connected devices will also grow, driven by an increasing range of applications and business models, as well as falling costs. By that year, Ericsson predicts that there will be around 26 billion connected devices globally.

All these figures indicate that smartphone usage will become a central part of our lives five years from now. Needless to say, the mobile app market will continue to boom, at least until 2020. But on closer inspection, how could these data specifically affect the future of mobile apps?

Growth from emerging markets

One of the key takeaways in the latest Ericsson Mobility Report is that mobile growth will primarily come from emerging markets , such as Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa. These regions will account for as much as 80 percent of all new mobile subscriptions in the next five years, as growth continues to level off in more developed markets like the United States and Europe. A total number of 108 million new mobile subscriptions were added globally during the first quarter of 2015, with India, China, Myanmar, Indonesia and Japan leading the way.

Emerging markets also pose a huge growth potential for mobile apps, although developers and marketers should employ different adaptation and monetisation strategies in order to penetrate the market. For instance, it is important to localise an app using geographic and cultural considerations. This can be done by providing translations, like what Born2Invest , a business and finance news reader, does. The recently launched Born2Invest app aggregates news from trusted sources and delivers them in 80-word summaries to the reader. Since it is to be translated into 54 languages, Born2Invest is expecting to break into more than 150 markets within 24 months of launching.

Mobile data usage

Ericsson said that 80 percent of mobile data traffic will be coming from smartphones by 2020. Data usage is set to grow tenfold in the next five years, with the Asia Pacific region accounting for as much as 45 percent of that. But while growth is on an uptrend among emerging markets, Europe and North America will continue to see the most data usage per smartphone, as people consume more bandwidth-heavy services due to the speed of their Internet connections.

In these developed regions, mobile broadband networks will have higher speeds, improved functionality and better spectrum efficiency. LTE uptake will be driven by demand for an improved user experience and faster networks. That said, speed matters more than ever. Every app's performance should be monitored to ensure that it responds quickly to user commands. Simple and minimalist user interfaces definitely have an advantage over complicated ones, as users prefer to finish a task in a single step rather than with a series of extra clicks. Apps like Tinder, Born2Invest , and Stylect all capitalise on the simple yet trendy "swipe right" movement, making it easier for users to navigate their apps.

Mobile video growth

While video already accounted for 45 percent of app traffic in 2014, it will further rise to 60 percent in five years. YouTube alone accounts for between 40 to 60 percent of all video traffic today. Video is dominant among heavy mobile users, who watch around an hour of video per day on average — 20 times more than the average mobile user. Music streaming only comes at second place, since a lot of music consumption is done offline.

Mobile video must be central to brand marketing and distribution strategies, as the steep rise in video consumption among mobile devices provides brands with more opportunities for premiere ad placements. Publishers should take note of where most mobile video consumption takes place in order to adapt content for different devices. The fact that smartphones are exhibiting no signs of weakness over the medium term also means that mobile app market will continue to evolve and reach new heights when it comes to delivering optimum user experience.

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