INSIDE MOBILE: Mobile and Wireless Trends in 2011

By J. Gerry Purdy  |  Posted 2011-01-11

INSIDE MOBILE: Mobile and Wireless Trends in 2011

At the start of every year, I have always tried to give readers of Inside Mobile some perspectives on the coming year-trends that will be important and some insights coming around the bend which you can't yet see. I am really not a prognosticator in that I don't suggest that I have visions popping in my head. I do, however, think that 2011 will be a major year for mobile and wireless. Here are 13 issues that will become important during the year.

1. Operating system wars

It's too early to pick the winners in the mobile operating system wars. While there are too many mobile operating systems, it's too early to see a shakeout because the smartphone market is growing. Growth always masks market corrections. Growth fuels opportunity.

There are over nine major mobile operating system platforms that today all seem viable for the smartphone market: 1) Apple iOS, 2) Google Android, 3) RIM BlackBerry (and its own migration to QNX operating system), 4) Microsoft Windows Phone 7, 6) Nokia's Symbian and 7) Meego (with Intel), 8) HP Palm's webOS and 9) a number of flavors of mobile Linux, particularly in the Asian region.

By 2020, I suspect that there will likely be something like three to four major mobile operating platforms (with my guess that iOS, Android, Windows Phone and webOS may still be alive and kicking). Of course, this has major implications for handset makers, particularly RIM and Nokia who are using their own smartphone operating system. That all may change in the next couple of years.

2. Smartphones

In either 2011 or 2012 (depending on who's counting), smartphones will surpass both PC shipments and feature phone shipments (in the United States and Europe). This is a big deal because the focus by the entire wireless ecosystem will be on smartphones. By 2020, feature phones will be a small minority as manufacturers (including Apple) will have smartphones with price points under $100 (with a two-year commitment with a wireless operator).

Both Android and Apple platforms will continue to expand, with Apple moving away from exclusive operator relationships and Android expanding into tablets. I'd love to see HP's Palm unit reenter the smartphone race with an exciting new product based on webOS.

Smartphone Application Services

3. Smartphone application services

While we have seen gigantic growth in the number of applications built for smartphones (well over 500,000), you'll see the next big growth happen in services. This is where the user gets access to proprietary content or is provided a service for a monthly subscription fee beyond the application itself (which likely will be given away free). Such examples include multiplayer online mobile gaming, stock services, information alerts and music streaming.

Pandora is a good example and I expect that Apple will have a streaming service available this year. In fact, they should consider renaming iTunes to iMedia since it will become a hub for the distribution of rich media on PCs, Macs, iPhones and, perhaps, all smartphones. You'll finally be able to either rent (temporary local use) or own (permanent local use) content.

4. Smartphone application search

As I mentioned in a previous Inside Mobile column, one of the big new areas in mobile will be application Search inside mobile application stores. This will offer beneficial services beyond looking up applications by categories (which helps). Personal profiles will be inputted to assist in the application Search process. This is an area ripe for innovation.

5. Tablets

It's easy to notice that tablets are becoming very popular. I believe tablets will form the "three legs of the mobile stool" in which we have: 1) a notebook for creating information (Microsoft Office) and doing serious message management (for example, via Outlook), 2) a smartphone on which to talk and do quick reviews and 3) tablets on which to review, think and do more thorough on-the-go messaging.

6. Tablet applications

Just as the smartphone helped spur the creation of application stores, watch for tablets to help create application stores that are more focused on the tablet environment. You already see this with publishing applications for the iPad that are designed for the tablet and not the iPhone. I think that education will be a huge area for tablets.

Education/Technology Renaissance

7. Education/technology renaissance

I have always thought that, someday, high school and college kids won'' have to schlep around tons of textbooks. Tablets can already help reduce the burden. For example, Kno Computing is migrating college textbooks to their own reader platform. I think longer term, the more exciting thing will be to see textbooks migrate from being static to being dynamic so that authors can constantly revise their textbooks (adding better examples, more animation and more testing, etc.) and students can interact with them for active learning (versus passive reading).

8. Mobile commerce

The announcement of the creation of ISIS by AT&T, Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile is very important. The real innovation will come in 2012 when the Near Field Communication (NFC) chip is included in all major popular phones and software is provided so that everyone will have a "mobile wallet" in which they can select their payment type and then touch the checkout terminal in the store to complete the payment. Between now and then, there are tons of other things such as transfer of funds between phones, payment of bills and mobile banking that will drive the market in 2011.

9. Mobile-cloud hybrid computing

As I have said before, the future of mobile is around the combination of mobile-centric computing activities, with the user backed up by services provided through the cloud. I call this mobile-cloud hybrid computing. It's not all cloud-based and not all mobile-based but a combination of the two.

10. Mobile screen to dominate

Users are spending more and more time on mobile devices and less and less time using other "screens" (such as looking at newspapers, magazines, traditional TV and the PC/Internet). This has huge implications for advertising.

Location-Aware Services

11. Location-aware services

With more time spent using your smartphone, there will be a huge increase in the development of location-aware services. Some examples include Foursquare, Point Inside, Aisle411, Yelp and Groupon (which clearly is going to migrate from offers to your home PC to offers to your smartphone-which, in turn, takes into account your current location).

12. Creation and consumption of more rich media

We now commonly see 5MP cameras with flash and autofocus in smartphones. They also capture video, often in high definition. This represents another huge change in content created on smartphones. These same users are exploding in the consumption of rich media (photos and movies) on their smartphones. More bandwidth is required and the good news is that 4G wireless (for example, LTE) will help solve this problem-most of the time. But it's going to take time to get all of this working correctly, which brings me to my last point.

13. Management of pervasive connectivity

All smartphones today include multiple ways in which to communicate, including both Wi-Fi and 3G. With users creating and consuming more rich media, there needs to be more intelligent management of the content that is both being downloaded to the smartphone and being uploaded as well. We need to have more intelligence in the pervasive communications process so that large files will be only downloaded and uploaded when there's a Wi-Fi connection.

With tiered pricing, users have to make sure that they don't run up a large bill simply sending the video they just created to a friend. We need to see connectivity management include switchable connections (between wide area and Wi-Fi) and least-cost routing of your communication links.

I wish each of you a Happy New Year! I hope each of you is able to participate in mobile and wireless during 2011, either as a customer or a producer of goods and services.

J. Gerry Purdy, Ph.D. is Principal Analyst of Mobile & Wireless at MobileTrax LLC. As a nationally recognized industry authority, Dr. Purdy focuses on monitoring and analyzing emerging trends, technologies and market behavior in the mobile computing and wireless data communications industry in North America. Dr. Purdy is an "edge of network" analyst looking at devices, applications and services, as well as wireless connectivity to those devices. Dr. Purdy provides critical insights regarding mobile and wireless devices, wireless data communications and connection to the infrastructure that powers the data in the wireless handheld. He is author of the column Inside Mobile & Wireless that provides industry insights and is read by over 100,000 people a month.

Dr. Purdy continues to be affiliated with the venture capital industry as well. He currently is Managing Director at Yosemite Ventures. And he spent five years as a Venture Advisor for Diamondhead Ventures in Menlo Park where he identified, attracted and recommended investments in emerging companies in mobile and wireless. He has had a prior affiliation with East Peak Advisors and, subsequently, following their acquisition, with FBR Capital Markets. For more than 16 years, Dr. Purdy has been consulting, speaking, researching, networking, writing and developing state-of-the-art concepts that challenge people's mind-sets, as well as developing new ways of thinking and forecasting in the mobile computing and wireless data arenas. Often quoted, Dr. Purdy's ideas and opinions are followed closely by thought leaders in the mobile and wireless industry. He is author of three books as well.

Dr. Purdy currently is a member of the Program Advisory Board of the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) which produces CES, one of the largest trade shows in the world. He is a frequent moderator at CTIA conferences and GSM Mobile World Congress. He also is a member of the Board of the Atlanta Wireless Technology Forum. Dr. Purdy has a B.S. degree in Engineering Physics from University of Tennessee, a M.S. degree in Computer Science from UCLA, and a Ph.D. in Computer Science and Exercise Physiology from Stanford University. He can be reached at

Disclosure Statement: From time to time, I may have a direct or indirect equity position in a company that is mentioned in this column.  If that situation happens, then I'll disclose it at that time. 

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