Up to speed and on the move
With the iPad still a month away from New Zealand release, it may be a time to consider where some of this technology is taking us.
Fortunately, Morgan Stanley managing director Mary Meeker has been doing some of the thinking for us and made a presentation on internet trends at the CM digital marketing summit in New York, which has sparked considerable interest.
The immediate message was that early-stage growth of the mobile internet was unprecedented. It's ramping up faster than desktop internet did, with Apple leading the charge with its iPhone and iTouch devices.
Meeker, who was one of the early Wall Street analysts to cover companies such as Apple, Microsoft, Nescape, eBay and Google, believed smartphone sales would outstrip PC shipments within two years.
Within a year, more smartphones will be sold in North America than feature phones, as the industry calls non-smartphones.
The mobile internet also involves iPads and Kindles, tablets, car electronics, home entertainment, gamers and wireless home appliances.
Every device is looking for a connection, and increasingly it's able to find one.
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Meeker says this year the number of 3G users passed 20 per cent, which meant technologies such as WCDMA, LTE and WiMax are now considered mainstream. The number of mobile-application users and mobile-browser users both doubled over the past year, with searching the most common activity on mobile browsers, followed closely by social networking and checking the news.
Some 20 per cent of users have looked up sports or movie information on their phones, and only slightly fewer have done banking on their smartphone.
On average, iPhone owners have downloaded 47 of the 200,000 applications available.
Phones with the Android operating system now have on average 22 downloaded apps, and in the few weeks they have had them iPad users have installed a dozen of the 3000 applications available.
Shipments of Android units are growing fast, with Google reporting that 100,000 such units were activated or shipped each day in May.
It took Apple 28 days to sell one million iPads, compared with the 74 days it took to sell that many iPhones and the 180 days it took netbooks to crack seven figures.
The change can be seen in the change in Apple's revenue sources over the past three years.
This time in 2007, the company was getting 47 per cent of revenue from traditional Mac sales, 29 per cent from iPods and 11 per cent from the iTunes music store.
Now the Mac accounts for just 28 per cent of the dollars flowing into Steve Jobs' pockets, the iPod 14 per cent, and the iPhone is now the biggest earner at 40 per cent, or US$5.4 billion in the first quarter of this year - equal to the total revenue for a quarter back in 2007.
Its operating margin now sits at 30 per cent, compared with 19 per cent, a sign it is getting a premium for innovation.
That premium is driving not only the incumbents - such as Apple, Google and Amazon - to innovate furiously, but there is also innovation coming from new attackers such as Facebook, Skype, Twitter and Zynga, the company behind Texas Hold'em Poker and Mafia Wars.
Meeker believes one result could be that online advertising may finally be entering the long-predicted golden age. The internet accounts for 28 per cent of time used consuming media, compared with 31 per cent for television, but only 13 per cent of total advertising budget is spent online.
Meeker says that represents a US$50 billion ($72 billion) global opportunity.
She says Japan is pointing the way, with mobile advertising revenue growing 11-fold in the past six years.
Social networking now outstrips email use, with more than 200 billion global minutes a month spent on social networking sites compared with 100 billion reading or writing emails.
Meeker predicts people will expect, and get, real-time connectivity any time in the palm of their hands.
Wi-Fi will be nearly ubiquitous in many developed markets, with new pricing models encouraging take-up.
We still prefer to view internet pages on desktop machines or tablets, but user expectations are changing.
Wireless consumers expect super-fast boot time, fast access to information and day-long plus battery life.
Peter McCaulay from research firm IDC New Zealand says this country has all the building blocks in place for similar growth in mobile internet, including the backhaul capacity needed to underpin wireless.
What may be needed, though, is more competition from new entrants to break the telecommunications companies out of the old-style ways of thinking that has so blighted the mobile phone and ISP markets.
"Everyone is prepared to pay to be connected, but the concept of payment based on volume of data is nonsense," McCaulay says.
The key is that connectivity will become ubiquitous, so the only thing that matters is the size of the screen.