The Top Mobile Trends of 2011

The mobile computing year in our collective rear-view mirror was, without doubt, all about the tablet. Apple’s iPad became available in April 2010, succeeding where no previous tablet device had — and then some. So we’re going out on a limb and predicting that 2011, in terms of mobile technology, will be the year of the…tablet.

But there will be plenty of other small business mobile trends to follow, too. Here’s a quick look at the year speeding toward us: the mobile technology that might change how you work on the go, and the opportunities it offers for reaching your customers when they’re mobile.

The Mobile Office in 2011

Tablet Mania Will Accelerate

The iPad’s raging success in 2010 spurred the launch of notable, competitive tablets from Samsung (the Galaxy Tab), Dell (Streak, Inspiron Duo) and others. As sure as the Pope wears red loafers, there will be more tablets in 2011.

RIM is joining the fray with a BlackBerry PlayBook tablet, expected in late February, and Cisco’s Cius tablet is due in March. In addition, likely but thus far unannounced contenders include an updated iPad with front-facing camera and a Palm WebOS tablet from HP, presumably to be announced in early January.

Research firm eMarketer estimates the iPad will account for 90 percent of the 10 million tablets sold in the U.S. in 2010 and 80 percent of the 24 million tablets purchased in the U.S. in 2011. What’s more, Forrester Research predicts U.S. tablet sales will surpass netbook and desktop sales by 2015.

The iPad and other tablets are still largely viewed as “lean back” devices for entertainment and Web browsing. But as they become more sophisticated, tablets will be used for “lean forward” activities, such as videoconferencing, writing, and creating presentations. Cisco’s Cius tablet, for instance, features a 720p high-def front-facing camera specifically for high-resolution videoconferencing.

Laptops Will Look More Like Netbooks

And netbooks will continue to become nearly as powerful as laptops. We’re likely to see more sophisticated netbooks that resemble laptops and laptops that are kissing cousins to netbooks. Apple, always the trendsetter, scored a hit with its 11-inch MacBook Air, so you can bet there will be more laptops in this price/form factor in 2011.

Smartphones Will Get Smarter

Android, Apple’s iOS, Windows Phone 7, and other smartphones will continue to become more advanced. Example: The new Google Nexus S is one of the first smartphones to support Near-Field Communication (NFC), which lets the phone communicate wirelessly with other NFC objects within 4 inches. Though barely in use today, NFC will enable smartphone users to easily make payments in stores or receive information about a local business via an NFC window sticker.

Smartphones Will Be Just About Everywhere

Seems like every five minutes, another must-have Android smartphone debuts. That’s unlikely to change in 2011. In fact, eMarketer believes U.S. smartphone users will grow in ranks to 73.3 million by year-end 2011 — up from 60.2 million at the end of 2010. In addition, eMarketer predicts smartphone owners will be 31 percent of the mobile population next year and 43 percent by 2015.

The biggest smartphone news of early 2011 is likely to be the long-rumored Verizon iPhone. Some believe there will be a sizeable defection from AT&T to Verizon among iPhone users. This could, ironically, lessen the pressure on AT&T often-criticized cellular network — a big reason many iPhone users may make the switch — and transfer the burden to Verizon’s network.

4G Network Availability Will Continue to Grow

Though still nascent, 4G cellular network access will become more widely available in 2011. You’ll need a new phone to take advantage of it, natch.

Mobile Marketing in 2011

What will all these tablets, smartphones, and other sophisticated mobile devices mean to small businesses that market products and services online?

It’s Time for a Mobile-optimized Website

If you sell products or promote services online, 2011 might be the year you need to optimize your site for smartphone browsers. In June 2010, a comScore study found that among all mobile users, 50 percent of Web browsing was conducted on a smartphone. What’s more, among mobile users, smartphone owners accounted for 54 percent of all application use, 54 percent of social networking activity, and 66 percent of video consumption.

Think of it this way. If a growing percentage of Web browsing is done on, say, an iPhone, and you’ve got a Flash-heavy site (Apple mobile devices don’t support Flash), you could be missing some business opportunities. Mobile websites are only going to increase in importance; if you don’t have a mobile-optimized site, chances are your competitors do — or they’re building one.

Also worth noting: Mobile search engines use different indexing algorithms than those employed for traditional Web searching, according to Search Engine Land. “They evaluate your website as if it was being rendered on a mobile phone, and they rank results partially based on how well the page will render on the type of phone that submitted the query.” For this and other reasons, having a mobile-optimized site can help smartphone users discover your products or services.

Social Media Use Will Be More Mobile

Facebook, Twitter, and other mobile versions of social networks grew in popularity in 2010 and are expected to continue in 2011. Example: Facebook says more than 200 million active users are “currently accessing Facebook through their mobile devices.” What’s more, those who use Facebook on the go are “twice as active on Facebook than non-mobile users,” the company says. Bottom line: If your business hasn’t yet established a social media presence, consider adding it to your New Year’s Resolutions.

Location-based Marketing Continues Its Popularity

Location-aware social networks such as Foursquare, Loopt and Yelp became a mini phenomenon in 2010 among GPS-equipped smartphone users. Research firm Gartner predicts that by year-end 2011, more than 75 percent of devices shipped in developed countries will include a GPS.

Expect the location-aware trend to continue rising in popularity in 2011. Consumers, especially the young and tech savvy, have shown their willingness to “check in” at a location (such as a store, restaurant, or bar) to receive special offers. So it may make sense, depending upon your business and target customers, to add location-based marketing to your promotional campaigns in 2011.

Advertising on the iPad

Studies show that iPad owners are more receptive to ads, particularly video ads, compared to those who use other mobile gadgets. Of course, some of this willingness to view advertising is due to the iPad’s novelty factor, which is likely to dim over time. Nonetheless, developing ads for iPad or other tablet apps might be worth considering, too, especially for midsized businesses.

James A. Martin has written about mobile technology since the mid 1990s and is the author of Traveler 2.0, a mobile technology blog for travelers.

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