Mobile Trends and Predictions: 2014 mid-year update

One of the things I like doing at the beginning of each year is forecasting what events are likely to happen in the upcoming year. For 2014, I forecasted 10 events that I thought would shape the mobile market. Here’s the mid-year update of how I’m doing with my prognostications for the year.

  1. Apple releases a bigger phone
    As far as predictions go, this one was a layup. We’re on the verge of seeing a 4.7″ iPhone, which was I figured was coming. The 5.5″ size surprised me, but recent production issues could delay that model until later this year or 2015.

  2. Android and iOS continue their OS dominance
    Once again, this one wasn’t a stretch. It wasn’t so much as a bet on Android and iOS as much as it was a bet against Microsoft. Based on recent reorganizations within Microsoft, I don’t think you’ll see significant traction from Windows Phone in the market until 2016 at the earliest, if at all.

  3. Apple and Samsung continue their smartphone dominance
    I certainly made lots of safe predictions for 2014, and this was another one. Although Samsung is starting to falter a bit due to market saturation, they’re still the dominant smartphone manufacturer along with Apple. In fact, I expect Apple to have a really strong end of the year with the release of the iPhone 6 that could really pad their market share numbers.

  4. Chrome OS appears on mobile phones
    I took a bit more risk on this one, and it looks like it’s not going to happen. Talk of Android apps running on Chromebooks came out of the Google developer’s conference, so I still believe that Android and Chrome OS will merge. In other words, it’s not a matter of if it will happen, just when.

  5. Amazon enters the mobile phone market
    This was another one of my “gimmees” as Amazon had been foreshadowing its phone development since late 2012. While I predicted the phone, it didn’t come with everything I thought it would. I figured they’d offer multiple models and some sort of phone service linked to Amazon Prime. That didn’t happen at launch, but it’s certainly possible they could be features on the Amazon roadmap.

  6. Nokia explores Android
    As I suspected, the rumors were correct and Nokia released their X-series, a low-end line of phones running a Nokia version of Android. Likewise, as expected, Microsoft killed the initiative as part of their recent reorganization and will force follow-on devices to Windows Phone. Personally, I think this is a mistake, but what do I know. I’m not the one getting paid to make these decisions.

  7. No contract and prepaid plans go mainstream
    Prepaid plans are gaining momentum, but they’re not mainstream yet. While T-mobile has gone all-in, AT&T, Verizon and Sprint are still clinging to the contract model. I suspect it is only a matter of time before all the major players have a strong prepaid, no-contract offering, especially as the smartphone market saturates and the upgrade cycle lengthens.

  8. The phone connects to the car
    As expected, both Apple and Google have strong car initiatives in the works. Apple is calling their version CarPlay, and Google is bringing Android Auto to market. It’s looking like next year’s cars will have at least one of these available as a feature, if not both.

  9. Mobile payments gain traction
    Mobile payment initiatives seem to have stalled. I still think people are taking the wrong approach by trying to force all payments through the phone. I just don’t understand why the major credit card companies aren’t developing applications that will allow us to use our phones as a secure authentication device with our existing cards. I can only figure that I’m either missing something or oversimplifying the problem.

  10. The new design buzzword – mobile-optimized
    The design community is a stubborn bunch and is still clinging to responsive design as the solution to all that ails mobile. While it is does have its place, it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution. I’ve seen too many poorly implemented responsive sites that compromise the mobile user experience to satisfy using a buzzword, and those that are implemented properly are often bloated and more expensive than hybrid solutions. It’s like hiring a carpenter who only knows how to use a hammer. Of course they’re going to suggest that everything should be held together with nails. I’m still confident that things will swing back once more “mobile-optimized” sites come online and designers realize that by expanding their toolbox they can build and deliver a much richer and more effective mobile experience to their clients.

I’ll do my usual mobile year in review at the end of the year which will take a look at how these predictions fared and other key events in 2014, which will be followed by my trends for 2015. Even though there are only six months left in the year, I expect a lot is going to happen. It’s going to be fun to watch!


Mobile Trends and Predictions for 2014

Since I managed to do a decent job with predicting last year’s mobile trends, I figured I’d give it another shot this year. Here are the biggest mobile trends I see in 2014, along with my predictions.

  1. Apple releases a bigger iPhone
    I’ve seen a couple of die-hard iPhone users switch to Android this past year specifically to get a larger screen. Even high profile bloggers are starting to explore Android. Apple can continue to be stubborn for only so long.

    My prediction: Apple relents and releases a 4.7″ screen with 1080p resolution for its iPhone 6 launch in the Fall. As with other iPhone launches, it will be wildly successful.

  2. Android and iOS continue their OS dominance
    I still believe there is room for a third operating system, but it will be a niche play. Android and iPhone have become too dominant for anyone else to gain traction at this point.

    My prediction: Microsoft will continue to try to buy market share, but Windows Phone will continue to lag a very distant third at less than 10% market share. Unless they try some different approaches (a few of which I suggested here), don’t expect much change in mobile OS market share over the course of 2014. (If you’re curious about BlackBerry, don’t be. You can stick a form in them.)

  3. Apple and Samsung continue their smartphone dominance
    I’m surprised that the smartphone handset market became a two horse race between Apple and Samsung during 2013. There are lots of people trying to nose their way in, but, if anything, Apple and Samsung seem to be strengthening their hold on the market.

    My prediction: 2014 will be more of the same. HTC seems to have fallen into a rut, and my favorite upstart challengers, Huawei and ZTE, are struggling to gain traction in the US. Motorola seems to be the most aggressive. Out of everyone, I give them the best chance of making a comeback if they can figure out how to promote their Moto X and Moto G models, as well as follow them up with another strong offering.

  4. Chrome OS appears on mobile phones
    When former Google Android lead Andy Rubin was pushed aside, I figured it was only a matter of time before Google merged their Android and Chrome OS developments. Everything I saw Google do in 2013 merely reinforced my view.

    My prediction: Chrome OS will appear on a phone in 2014. Expect it to be a Nexus model that is announced around Google I/O or around the iPhone 6 launch. The smart money says that it will be built by Motorola as well, which may stir up controversy that Google is playing favorites among the Android handset makers.

  5. Amazon enters the mobile phone market
    Quite honestly, I thought this was a slam dunk prediction for 2013. Oh well, I’m going to take another run at it for 2014. Amazon has been very successful with the Kindle product line, and I’m confident that they want to do the same with mobile phones.

    My prediction: Amazon releases a phone in time for the holidays with one catch, it comes with the phone service included and delivered on a pay-as-you-go, no-contract basis. I also expect they will offer two phone types – a high-end model style to compete with the last iPhone and Android models, and a mid/low range Moto G style device.

  6. Nokia explores Android
    There’s already rumors abound that Nokia has a low-end phone with a custom version of Android being developed. The question is whether that device will see the light of day once the Microsoft acquisition closes.

    My prediction: Microsoft makes a big mistake and refuses to allow Nokia to release a low-end Android-based handset, severely limiting their ability to dominate the low-end of the market. In other words, while Nokia will be the largest Windows Phone manufacturer, it’ll be small potatoes compared to stalwarts Apple and Samsung.

  7. No contract and prepaid plans go mainstream
    T-mobile showed this past year that consumers do not like subsidized contracts. Since they launched their “un-carrier” initiative, T-mobile has started adding subscribers. They’ve been so successful that AT&T launched their own set of no contract plans in December.

    My prediction: T-mobile’s continued success with no contract plans will force Sprint and Verizon to join them with no-contract plans of their own in 2014. By the end of the year, it will be more common for people to buy no-contract plans rather than the way it used to be.

  8. The phone connects to the car
    While it’s getting easier for your phone to connect with your car, it’s still not completely seamless. Based on recent announcements, I’m pretty convinced that’s going to change, and soon.

    My prediction: Look for iOS and Android to become integrated in the 2015 models that come out toward the second half of the year. It will be easier than ever for your phone to integrate with your car, and I suspect it’ll be the first step to true mobile connectivity where your phone will completely control your car’s infotainment system, whether it’s an iPhone or Android device.

  9. Mobile payments gain traction
    It seems like everyone has been working on mobile payments for years, but I believe we’re on the edge of a breakthrough. Especially with the recent credit card leaks at Target, people are ready for a new, more secure way to complete their transactions.

    My prediction: Payment processes that are attempting to bypass cards are not the answer. I believe we should be using our phones as a security token that works with our cards at the point-of-sale to verify the user’s card and identity. In fact, I’m surprised Visa, Mastercard, or American Express haven’t done this already.

  10. The new design buzzword – mobile-optimized
    The web design world revolves around buzzwords. The buzzword for 2013 was responsive web design. It was the chic way to design websites so they sized themselves based on screen size. Unfortunately, it leaves out the most important of the mobile user experience, context, so many responsive sites were simply reformatted versions of a bloated desktop site.

    My prediction: Mobile-optimized becomes the buzzword for 2014. It will be important for a website to not only scale based on screen size but also detect a user’s context and deliver content based on a variety of factors, including whether they are on a mobile device or not.

Of all things predicted, there is one I know for sure. The mobile landscape continue to shift and move at a rapid pace, one that is always faster than we think it’s moving. I don’t see it slowing down in 2014, which means that the market will once again look much different at the end of 2014 than it does now.

If there are any trends in mobile you are keeping your eyes on in 2014, please let me know in the comments!

Mobile Year in Review – 2013

2013 was another big year for mobile. As computing continues its move from the desktop PC model to the mobile environment of tablets and phones, I expect that 2014 will be even bigger. However, before laying out some predictions for next year (as I did last December), let’s take  a look at some of the events that transpired in 2013.

  • Android and iOS continued their domination of the mobile OS market
    As I predicted, BlackBerry was not able to turn the delayed BB10 into a success, unsuccessfully tried to sell itself, and ended up in full regroup mode at the end of the year. I don’t expect BlackBerry to recover.Likewise, despite spending a lot of money and effort, Microsoft has not been able to turn Windows Phone into a success. I don’t expect Microsoft to give up, but they have a long way to go as they are a distant third in smartphone market share with only about 5% of the market.

    Finally, while iOS has hung with Android, they may be slowly losing the smartphone war to Android. Their insistence on not releasing a true low-end, budget phone along with a bigger screen for the iPhone is allowing Android to extend their market share lead. We’ll see what 2014 brings, but Apple needs to be careful to not let its arrogance about what they think consumers want get the best of it.

  • Apple and Samsung continued their dominance of the phone market
    Apple had another successful iPhone launch in the Fall with the iPhone 5s and 5c, and Samsung continued its success with the Galaxy line of smartphones. They have established a dominant position over former mobile phone stalwarts Nokia and Motorola. Unfortunately for Nokia, they weren’t able to end their swoon and sold themselves to Microsoft during the second half of 2013. Motorola continues to fight along with the help of its parent company, Google. Their release of the Moto X and Moto G, which are two outstanding mid-range phones, have at least confirmed that Motorola hasn’t forgotten how to make a good device. The question is if they can market it.As for newcomers, I really thought that Huawei, a Chinese manufacturer, and Amazon would make a lot more waves in the mobile phone market. Huawei has run into strong headwinds in the US due to security concerns, which could derail its ability to gain market share here. However, I expect Huawei to be a major force worldwide, especially in developing countries. As for Amazon, I’m not counting them out. Don’t be surprised to see them release a phone, possibly coupled with a carrier service, at some point in the near future.
  • “Phablets” remained a niche, and prepaid service expanded
    As I figured last year, those monstrous devices with phone capabilities that were a bit too small to be a tablet but too large to be a true mobile phone remained a niche player in the market. The bulk of the phone market stayed under 5-inches, which I suspect will continue to be the sweet spot for phones. Anything over 5-inches begins to get a bit cumbersome for a true mobile device.As for mobile phone service, no contract made huge inroads in 2013. I was just about ready to switch to prepaid service myself when T-mobile did me a favor and moved to a no contract model, eliminating carrier subsidized phones. Instead, subscribers either buy their phone outright, pay for their phone through monthly installments, or bring their own device. In exchange, T-mobile significantly reduced the monthly fees for their plans. For example, I have four lines with unlimited voice minutes, text messaging, and data for only $120 per month. T-mobile has used their “un-carrier” strategy to begin clawing back market share. It’s been so successful that AT&T released a rival plan in November, and I suspect that both Sprint and Verizon will be forced to follow suit in the upcoming year.
  • Apps continue to rule the roost, but they better not look back
    As much as it may pain me to say this, native apps continue to have an advantage over mobile web apps in terms of functionality. However, the gap has closed significantly, and for many types of apps, I would content that the mobile web is a better approach than native. It’s only a matter of time before the web catches up to native functionality. While I don’t think that the web will ever replace native capability for all app types, I do believe that native will become an approach reserved for a few select types of applications, such as games.So what types of mobile web design will win out? Responsive web design (RWD) is the buzzword these days and is all the rage, but it isn’t right for every site. Some people are insistent on applying RWD as a one-size-fits-all approach for mobile which is where I believe it breaks down. Context is an important factor in mobile design, and I expect that more sites will incorporate context into their mobile presence making for a more engaging consumer experience. I like to call this approach adaptive, or contextual design, and I expect to see a lot more of it in 2014.

While I didn’t bat 100% on my predictions for 2014, I did do slightly better than .500, which is pretty respectable when it comes to forecasting. I’m finalizing my predictions for 2014 and will post them prior to the arrival of the New Year. So check back in over the next week to see what mobile trends will emerge in 2014.

Windows Phone’s biggest problem and how I’d fix it

Nokia Lumia 925Windows Phone’s biggest problem isn’t the software. It’s not the hardware either. The biggest problem is momentum, meaning the lack of it.

Sure, they’re overjoyed that they’ve moved into third place in smartphone market share, but that’s like being happy you finished third in a three person race. In other words, they’re basically in last, and worse yet, they aren’t showing any signs of gaining on the leaders.

In a market that’s heavily consumer focused, perception is everything. The market share numbers are a clear indicator of it. Android and iOS are dominating the mobile market, with combined market share numbers topping 90% and showing no signs of letting up. These two platforms have so much momentum that their sales are growing without even trying.

On the other hand, Windows Phone isn’t going anywhere. There’s little to no buzz in the tech blogs regarding Windows Phone, there’s no mainstream media mentions of it, and I see very few ads marketing it. On the other hand, the iPhone and various Android devices, particularly Samsung’s Galaxy S4, HTC’s One and Motorola’s Moto X, are getting a lot more attention. If you’re in the market for a new device, you’re way more likely to gravitate towards those devices before checking out a Windows Phone model.

So if I was in charge of Windows Phone (which thank goodness I’m not), here’s what I would suggest be done:

  1. Accelerate feature development and OS releases
    I would find a way to work outside of the normal bureaucratic confines of the Microsoft machine and start releasing more OS updates. Instead of shooting for big monumental releases, I would focus on more point releases to bring key features to the platform faster. In other words, give the tech people something to talk about and demonstrate through actions, not words, your commitment to accelerating product development. Windows Phone needs to close the feature gap between it and the leaders and start pulling ahead.
  2. Heavy does of advertising and promotion
    I would make a more concerted effort to be seen and heard, and I don’t mean at the tech conferences. I’m talking about lots of prime time advertising, online viral videos, and strong media spots. I would get permission to go outside of normal Microsoft marketing agencies and channels in order to inject fresh ideas into the mix. I would also make sure our campaigns were different. In other words, don’t copy the Apple formula – do something bolder to differentiate the product.
  3. Create handset buzz
    I’d get more vendors than Nokia on board and provide incentives for doing so. Sure, Nokia makes a good handset, but there needs to be more flagship models out there. There’s not a lot of choice when it comes to Windows Phone, and the choices that exist aren’t compelling.
  4. More developer enthusiasm
    Because of how far behind Microsoft is in the market, there’s not a lot of excitement among developers to jump onto the platform. My colleague Carl has been trying out a Lumia 925 over the last month, and even he says that the lack of app support makes it really tough to recommend the device. The same issues I had with app support in Windows Phone 7 over a year ago still haven’t been addressed in Windows Phone 8. Somehow, someway, I would get developers excited about developing for Windows Phone.

I’m still of the opinion that the market can support a third mobile operating system. Microsoft certainly has the resources at its disposal to take a run at it, and Windows Phone 8 is a well designed operating system. However, the longer they languish at the back of the pack and celebrate meaningless victories, the harder it will get to be relevant. Why? People are getting more and more locked into iOS and Android services, and unless the reason to switch is really compelling, Microsoft won’t win those users back.

The only solution for Microsoft at this point is to create more buzz and market momentum, and to do it quickly. Time is not on their side. They need to start shaking things up, and fast. Otherwise, they’re going to not only slide further behind in market share, but worse yet, they’ll become irrelevant in the mobile market.


A mid-year evaluation of our 2013 mobile predictions

Plenty of people like to make market predictions when the end of the year approaches, but few like to evaluate how their predictions are doing. I figured it would be fun to do a little review of the 10 mobile predictions I made for 2013 to see how they’re faring, and what my prognosis is for the rest of the year.

  1. BlackBerry releases BB10, will anyone care?
    My 2013 prediction: 
    RIM will spend a lot of time, effort and money trying to make BB10 relevant only to be forced to either sell the company or figure out how to migrate key BlackBerry features to Android.

    Mid-year prognosis: It remains to be seen if BlackBerry will end up being sold, but the reception to BB10 has been luke warm at best. In fact, BlackBerry’s recent quarterly announcement certainly seemed to indicate that things are not all that rosy in Waterloo these days.

  2. Microsoft attempts to buy their way to market share
    My 2013 prediction: Despite spending a sum of money equivalent to the GDP of a sizable industrialized country, Microsoft will remain at less than 5% market share and enter crisis mode as their core product revenues begin to erode under competitive pressures from Google and Apple.

    Mid-year prognosis: Microsoft might crest 5% market share by the end of 2012, but it won’t be by much. However, I like the strategy Microsoft is taking with regards to mobile, especially if they continue to copy Google’s mobile approach of aggressively pushing their software, like Office 365, to other mobile platforms.

  3. Can Apple keep up with Android
    My 2013 prediction:
     Apple’s desire to control the entire ecosystem will cause Apple’s market share to stagnate, effectively repeating what happened during the original Mac era. In fact, Android’s lead will grow as it is morphed and integrated into everything from appliances to automobiles throughout 2013.

    Mid-year prognosis: Apple is starting to see stagnation in their market share, so I stand by my beginning of the year prediction. I’m sure they’ll see a little bounce when the next iPhone models are released, but their closed approach is going to come to haunt them sooner rather than later.

  4. Can Nokia keep it together
    My 2013 prediction: 
    Look for Nokia to be taken over by one of the major OEMs, or sold off in pieces. There just isn’t enough time left for Nokia to pull out of its nosedive before it completely craters.

    Mid-year prognosis: Nokia hasn’t cratered, yet. There’s only so much duct tape and bailing wire can hold together. I’ll maintain that Nokia is a takeover target, although it may not happen until 2014.

  5. The rise of Huawei
    My 2013 prediction:
     Huawei leverages its success at the lower end of the market in developing countries and begins an assault on markets in the US and Europe with both their entry level smartphone and surprisingly affordable high-end models that not only rival but threaten Samsung and Apple’s dominance.

    Mid-year prognosis: Huawei is finding it tough sledding in the US with its latest handsets. From my experience, Huawei is tenacious and persistent, so don’t expect them to give up. If they go down, it won’t happen without a fight. Like my Nokia prediction, I may be a bit premature projecting their emergence, but don’t count them out.

  6. Amazon extends their mobile footprint
    My 2013 prediction:
     Amazon first attempts at a phone will fail, and possibly quite spectacularly, since a phone needs more than just good content to win users over. However, Amazon does not enter markets without a long-term plan, so expect a version 2 of their mobile phone in 2014 that will change their fortunes.

    Mid-year prognosis: During the latter part of 2012, an Amazon phone seemed all but a certainty, so I thought I was on solid ground with this prediction. It’ll be interesting to see what Amazon does as the holiday season approaches. Either way, I still predict that their first effort will not be a huge success, so if they’re even considering a phone launch, the sooner the better.

  7. Can phablets jump the shark
    My 2013 prediction:
     Phablets will be niche devices. Based on the usage habits of those around me, the 3.5 to 4.5? screen size will remain the bulk of the market as it allows for the greatest portability, which is what a mobile phone is all about.

    Mid-year prognosis: I still contend that phablets are niche devices. For what it’s worth, this one had to be my safest prediction of the year.

  8. Prepaid takes on contract mobile phone service
    My 2013 prediction:
     Prepaid, month-to-month service gains momentum as T-mobile looks to differentiate themselves and leads a charge to push people away from the subsidized model. I, for one, used to be a doubter but have been converted. I plan to switch my service to prepaid in 2013 when my current contract expires.

    Mid-year prognosis: Well, T-mobile stepped out and moved to a “no-contract” model. While it’s not true no-contract, it’s close enough, and I’ve embraced it. I’m no longer on contract, buy my own phones, and am free to move to any carrier of my choosing. It’s a liberating feeling, and one I suggest everyone should experience.

  9. Mobile web applications pull even with native applications
    My 2013 prediction: 
    There are too many smart people focused on making HTML5 applications just as good, if not better, than native apps. Sure, native apps such as games and Instagram clones will have their place, but the majority of mobile development will begin transitioning away from native to the web. So while Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook may think HTML5 isn’t ready, there are others out there who would argue otherwise.

    Mid-year prognosis: OK, so I may have a been bit early here, too. I still contend that it’s not a matter of “if”, but “when” it will happen. It may not be this year, but it will happen, and efforts like those of Mozilla with their Firefox mobile OS and Ubuntu Linux OS for mobile phones only serve to advance the cause.

  10. The rise of adaptive design
    My 2013 prediction:
     Look for more and more websites to provide alternative experiences based on more than just screen size in 2013. Websites will also take into account things like location and user behavior to quickly serve context-appropriate content.

    Mid-year prognosis: The uptake of adaptive design has been a little slow, but I’m going to stand by my prediction. As the adoption of HTML5 increases, I still believe that we’ll see some very creative mobile web designs that move beyond responsive in the coming months and years.

My last prediction was an incentive for us to maintain a regular blog presence. We’ve done a much better job this year than in year’s past, and I’m hoping that we can maintain our blogging momentum for the remainder of this year and into 2014.