Summary:

Is 2012 “the year of mobile?” No sir. Mobile is simply too disruptive to have just one year. After all, who remembers the year of the TV or…

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Is 2012 “the year of mobile?” No sir. Mobile is simply too disruptive to have just one year. After all, who remembers the year of the TV or the year of the Internet? Talk of “the year of …” is not only passé but also irrelevant. The disruptive forces of mobile arrived more than two years ago and will fundamentally change businesses in the decades to come.

You could argue that 2011 was the year of Android, given that the number of Android devices activated daily doubled from 350,000 to 700,000 between April and December 2011. Or perhaps it was the year of the mobile operating system war, with Nokia’s strategic shift to Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) Windows Phone OS. So what are the trends that will shape the mobile landscape in 2012? Let’s look at them in four categories: business, ecosystem, consumer expectations, and technology.

Mobile Is A Key Business Enabler

Professionals who hope to increase the sophistication of their mobile strategies will need to:

»  Develop a scalable approach to delivering mobile services. Organizations will need a strategic approach to building and spreading institutional knowledge as well as governance for the development of mobile services. It will be increasingly important to define key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure the success of mobile initiatives.

»  Craft a mobile strategy that extends beyond phones. The emergence of tablets in particular will require a different approach than smartphones.

»  Differentiate on the delivery rather than the content of mobile services. In 2012, “how” mobile services are delivered will differentiate them–not what they offer.

Success In The Mobile Ecosystems Will Elude Incumbents And Embrace Newcomers

Expect incumbents across a range of industries to look to hold or gain share as mobile revolutionizes their business. Key 2012 mobile ecosystem trends include:

»  The emergence of mobile digital wallets and their ability to go beyond payment. New technologies are converting mobile handsets into digital wallets that combine not just payments but also receipts, vouchers, and loyalty schemes. As well as gaining the convenience of using the phone for payment, consumers will benefit from post-transaction elements such as location-based coupons and enhanced product information at the point of sale.

»  The continuation of the smartphone OS bloodbath. If you need a native application, iOS and Android are “must-haves.” However, there is still room for a third major OS platform. Windows Phone is a good candidate, but Nokia (NYSE: NOK) and Microsoft will have to execute perfectly to stay in the game longer term, even with a larger portfolio of devices in 2012.

»  Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN) and Facebook becoming disruptive distribution forces. We don’t expect Amazon to succeed in replicating its Kindle approach in the crowded smartphone space–nor do we expect Facebook to invest in hardware. While their respective roles in the mobile space are still unclear, they could become disruptive forces that enable the distribution of products and services in new ways. Think about the use of social recommendations and personalization tools to facilitate the discovery of mobile services.

Consumer Expectations Will Be Both High And Conflicted

Professionals developing mobile services should take the following into account:

»  Consumers will expect more contextual experiences. Phones will have the ability to collect a phenomenal amount of information about a consumer. They will offer new product and service opportunities, both on their own and when combined with others. Mobile phones will be the hub of consumer interaction–not only with other people but also with other services and machines, such as TVs, cars, and even medical devices like heart monitors. Physical products will increasingly ship with companion mobile services.

»  But they will also worry about privacy and security. When the press realized that several players were tracking user location to improve services, there was a public outcry. Location is the least of it. The mobile phone will know everything about an individual. Consumer concerns here will center on: 1) the commercial use of this information, and 2) security issues, given the increased use of mobile devices for banking and buying.

Emerging Technologies Need Standards And Scale To Succeed

New native technologies will enable new services, products, and navigation techniques that are unimaginable on the PC. Professionals excited by these new technologies should note that:

»  HTML5 has made phenomenal progress, but it is not a panacea. Adobe’s abandonment of Flash at the end of last year and support for HTML5 from heavyweights like Apple, Google (NSDQ: GOOG), Amazon, and Microsoft are elevating HTML5’s potential as a solution. Two key things continue to hold back this potential cure-all: 1) the experience and performance differences between native and web applications are noticeable, and 2) realizing the full benefits of HTML5 requires device- and OS-specific optimization.

»  Near Field Communications (NFC) will fail to live up to the hype. We expect dozens of millions of NFC devices to ship from a wide variety of device makers – including, eventually, Apple (NSDQ: AAPL). We expect events like the 2012 Olympic Games in London to serve as marketing catalysts and help showcase the numerous potential uses of the technology. However, a poor out-of-the-box experience, minimal consumer education, and the lack of NFC infrastructure will inhibit growth.

»  The cloud is still too congested or too thin. The consumerization of the enterprise IT notion of cloud computing is already a reality, with services such as Dropbox, Spotify, and Apple’s iCloud. The cloud will grow in importance, enabling cross-device services, but will be inhibited by limited network capacity and congestion.

Thomas Husson is a Principal Analyst at Forrester Research serving Consumer Product Strategy professionals. Follow him on Twitter at @Thomas_Husson

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This article originally appeared in Forrester.

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