The 2010 Mobile Year in Review

The mobile Web is becoming ubiquitous, according to comScore's 2010 Mobile Year in Review. Taking into account full HTML Web browsing capabilities and phones with limited Web access, 90 percent of mobile subscribers in the U.S. and Europe can browse the Web on their mobile phones. The bad news is that there are more than 60 different browser versions active across mobile handsets, resulting in a fragmented experience for users and adding to the set of complications for developers and website owners.

Motorola's Droid (which runs Android) reached #5 on the list for top acquired handsets from 2009-2010. But, Android faces a challenge of consistency, as 68 different handsets are now using Android. The iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4 were the top two acquired handsets during the period, respectively. When asked about their top factors when choosing a device, consumers ranked the phone's operating system as most important, closely followed by "Selection of Apps" and "Music/Video Capabilities."

Key Demographics

It has been found that smartphone usage is rather varied, according to location and age. In Europe, those 55 and older account for 18.1 percent of the market. In the U.S. that figure is just 12.6 percent. The U.S. skews younger -- 18-24 year olds make up 16.7 percent (compared to Europe's 14.5 percent) and 25-34 year olds come in at 27.2 percent (compared to Europe's 23.6 percent).

But in the U.S., the fastest-growing markets are 13-17 year olds (up a whopping 86 percent to 4.3 million smartphone users) and those 55 or older (up 78 percent to 8 million users). Across the board, the biggest smartphone market is with 25-34 year olds, followed by 35-44. In Europe, 55+ adoption is far ahead of the same in the U.S. -- even above the U.S.'s 18-24 and 45-54 year old market.

Mobile Media Consumption

Overall, mobile media consumption is on the rise. Since December 2009, U.S. mobile media usage (browsed, accessed applications, downloaded content or accessed the mobile Web via SMS) has grown to 46.7 percent of the total audience, up 7.6 percent. In Europe, the total is 41.1 percent.

When it comes to accessing content, both browsing (up 9 percentage points to 36 percent) and using apps to get content (up 8 points to 34 percent) are on the rise in the U.S. Europe rose to 29 percent and 28 percent, respectively. It's interesting to note that in both regions, mobile browsing and app usage go hand-in-hand. Few consumers use just one or the other to access content. Apps might not be killing the mobile Web after all.

Fastest Growing Content Channels

It's no surprise that social networks led the way as the fastest growing mobile usage category in the U.S. -- up 56 percent. But the leading usage category remains email, and continues to rise with 39 percent growth. This is important information for marketers when designing email messages or newsletters. Consumers are reading email on the go, and on small screens.

European users, meanwhile, are warming up to mobile retail. Usage in that category grew 79 percent, compared to 53 percent growth in the U.S. It should be note, however, that mobile retail lags far behind social network in Europe, also.

Japan shows a very mature mobile market. Mobile media consumption there shows a much more balanced profile across age groups and 75 percent of Japanese consumers use "connected media" -- far and above the U.S. or Europe. Japan is also leading the way in the usage of a phone as a mobile wallet -- comScore found that 7.6 million Japanese used their phones to make purchases at a retail or convenience store, in December 2010.

One very interesting note is that Japanese mobile subscribers use email (57 percent) far more than those in the U.S. (30 percent) or Europe (22 percent). ComScore takes this as a sign of a mature mobile market, and that email is "a function to which they have been accustomed as a standard capability on their mobile devices for many years." Email is also credited for the lack of Japanese text messagers, the lowest of all the markets studied. While experts continue to declare that email is dying (with help from mobile apps and text messaging), the Japanese market indicates the exact opposite -- that as users become more savvy mobile users, email remains a top mobile activity.

Always On

Across three of the most common usage categories -- email, news and information access, and social networking -- daily interaction is on a steep incline; up 38 percent, 52 percent and 80 percent, respectively, in the U.S. This is a reminder that while marketers have incredible access to mobile subscribers at any given time, they should be careful to not overdo it. In fact, it might be easier than ever to get your emails unsubscribed or Facebook pages un-liked because of overexposure. A separate study by ExactTarget titled "The Social Break-Up" found that the top reason people unsubscribe from opt-in emails is that they came too frequently. Likewise, the top reason consumers "unlike" a brand on Facebook is because the company posted too frequently. That problem can be exacerbated by the always-on mobile device.

Finally, included in the study was data about the habits of online newspaper readers by device and time of day. PC's and iPads see peaks and valleys of usage but mobile users (apart from the wee hours of the morning) appear to be quite steady in their time of consumption -- meaning there might be less importance on when to send a message or update a page and more focus on the content, such as writing catchy headlines, for example.

The full report can be downloaded here, including a section on comScore's methodology.