AdMob Data Illustrates Why Feature Phones Aren't a Strategy for the Future

AdMob today released its latest Mobile Metrics Report, which highlights the rapid rise of global smartphone usage over the past two years. Indeed, in every region of the world, mobile traffic has increased at least four times — and in some areas, 11 times — from that of 2008 levels. Aside from increased data demand and web usage, the comparisons of popular handsets and mobile platforms used over time illustrate dramatic shifts caused by the likes of relative upstarts, Google and Apple.

The trends captured by AdMob’s data reinforce my concerns about companies such as Nokia, which rely on a broad range of feature phones — with a particular focus on emerging countries, no less — to offset a lagging smartphone strategy. While smartphones currently account for a small percentage of overall worldwide handset sales, they show the most growth — 48 percent in the first quarter of 2010 over the same quarter a year prior, reports Gartner — and potential as hardware prices decline. The most worrisome example of a feature phone strategy in upcoming regions is evident in AdMob’s look at worldwide operating system share.

Nokia’s Symbian-powered devices were perennial powerhouses in the company’s backyard of Europe just a few years ago. Fast-forward to today and you see Western Europe dominated by two mobile platforms that didn’t even exist until mid-2007. AdMob’s data on Eastern Europe shows a similar, albeit not as dramatic, shift away from Symbian; meanwhile, Nokia barely has a presence in North America and Oceania. The bright spot is Africa, but if this were the board game RISK, Africa could also fall as iOS4 and the Android army march towards conquest. The only defense right now is the relatively limited data infrastructure in Africa — if that changes and smartphones continue to drop to feature phone price levels, it, too, will be overrun with smart, low-cost handsets.

Another takeaway from the AdMob report is increased Wi-Fi usage, with more than 24 percent of all mobile traffic in the U.S. coming through home networks and hotspots. Apple iOS4 devices take the lead in generating Wi-Fi traffic — likely speaking to the many iPod touch units that have no 3G connection as well as AT&T iPhone customers opting for faster and more stable wireless connections where available. More feature phones take advantage of Wi-Fi as well, generating almost as much wireless traffic as smartphones do, says AdMob.

Given the vast amount of data points compared over the prior two years, I recommend a download of the PDF report, which may be the last one for some time. AdMob, which was purchased by Google in November 2009, explains that it will be breaking from its monthly report schedule as it considers “how to re-invent the report to make it more useful and relevant.” I expect occasional data updates on the AdMob blog, but now that Google’s mobile ad platform is competing against Apple’s new iAd program on mobiles, Google may want to keep the juiciest bits for itself.

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