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Is it the Dawn of Mobile Social Networking?

At the beginning of this year, nearly 50 percent of the time people spent using their mobile phones were on games.

social media and mobileMobile phones and games, in fact, appeared to be custom-made for each other, locked in a mutually beneficial embrace that saw both spiraling upward toward incredible levels of success. Smartphone manufacturers were churning out handsets that could accommodate the latest games, providing all the bells and whistles that could do justice to these flights of fancy, and game developers were becoming more sophisticated with their offerings, seeking to take full advantage of the advanced features of the new generation of smartphones.

As far as the market was concerned, there could not have been a better match, nor could there have been a better reason to acquire a new-fangled smartphone, nor a better time to own one of these computers-disguised-as-mobile-phones. Then of course the iPad entered the picture and games just took off like crazy.

Oh sure, the app store concept soon changed the software landscape and opened the doors for app developers and entrepreneurs to develop an “app for that,” whatever “that” was. But it was the game sector that stoked the fire for the mobile market. So in January of this year, Flurry Analytics reported that 49 percent of mobile users were spending their time playing games on their iPads, iPhones, Androids and other mobile devices.

Only 30 percent were doing some kind of social networking, and the balance was split somewhat evenly among entertainment, news and others activities. (http://www.insidemobileapps.com/2012/01/10/half-of-the-time-u-s-consumers-spend-in-mobile-apps-is-with-games/) But that is no longer the case today. The same mobile analytics company, Flurry, has since discovered that people are now spending as much time on social networking apps as they are on games (http://blog.flurry.com/bid/84512/Social-Networking-Ends-Games-40-Month-Mobile-Reign).

In fact, the top mobile app was not a game, but a social app, a photo sharing program called Instagram. It did so well that it caught Facebook’s attention and eventually got bought by the social media giant for a tidy sum, further adding fuel to its raging fire. Instagram remains on top of the list. And based on their volume of downloads, other social apps are faring similarly well. Badoo, the “social discovery” site has an app that tops the list for the Blackberry platform.

Seesmic and Vimeo apps continue to rate high on iOS and Android. Games are still a significant force, mind you, but they are no longer the overwhelmingly dominant pursuit they once were on mobile devices. So that is what the mobile landscape looks like at this moment: social apps are now at par with games. Now what does all this mean?

Some analysts point out that it may be a sign the platform is maturing, and users are looking for more things to do on their mobile devices other than lob irritable avians at swine or get chased by evil primates through an ancient temple. This diversification of preferences is also to be expected as the base-user population of these devices continues to grow beyond the early adopters and power users.

More users means more segmentation in terms of needs and preferences. And as new apps deliver on their promised usefulness, word goes out and more people start using these new and useful apps. It isn’t hard to imagine how games suddenly found itself in the company of other types of apps on the mobile desktop.

This has all happened before; the PC industry is the precedent that gives us valuable clues about what to expect. While the personal computer evolved to empower business users, it exploded as users adopted them for their own personal use at home. One of the big factors getting people buying PCs was to play these new-fangled games on them: Doom, Sim City, Civilization,

The Day of the Tentacle and many others that provided countless hours of fun and enjoyment. But as we all saw, the PC platform soon matured; advances in the operating system, hardware and network upgrades proceeded at a dizzying pace and regularly upped the ante for PC users and software developers. Soon it became impossible to conduct business and live our personal lives without access to PCs.

What is happening now with mobile devices closely parallels the working history of the PC, only at an even higher velocity. Games ignited and sustained the market, but people will soon be looking for bigger and better things to do with their smartphones and tablets. In the meantime, at least, it looks like social is slowly emerging as the other killer mobile app.

This, too, is significant. It affirms that social is not just a passing fad, but rather a deep-seated human need. And social apps are here to provide for that need. It’s exciting to speculate what wildly wonderful innovations are waiting for mobile social apps just over the horizon. Some of the areas that app developers are working to integrate include information sharing, cloud storage and mobile interaction.

Get ready, because the apps that we are going to see soon are going to blow our socks off!


Edwin Huertas - Isis CMS

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