Online experts have been predicting that “this will be the year mobile finally arrives” for more than five years. Citing seemingly high growth rates of often as high as 500%, it seems they’ve been justified. But growth rates can be deceiving. After all, if you had one person “going mobile” last year and six this year, you’d have a 500% growth rate – but it would hardly register in the vast sea of internet users.
We’re faced with the real question: Does the data indicate that mobile really has finally “arrived?”
If so, how can we effectively communicate the data and, even more to the point, why does this matter?
For data journalists, these questions matter because of key issues that need to be addressed, such as:
1) are your visualizations mobile-friendly?
2) are your articles easy to read on the “small screen”?
To start off — yes, the data shows that mobile has indeed “arrived.” In order to confirm this transition, the data would have to show significant adoption rates across internet users (not just on Facebook, for example).
App downloads are one good indicator of this growth rate, since, by definition, they are designed to give mobile users a specialized experience beyond what the “wired” internet offers. Data shows that one-third of the 88% of US residents over age 25 who have mobile phones are using their devices to download mobile applications. This an increase of 45% from July 2011 and October 2012.
Mobile purchasing is also a good indicator, since it shows that people are not waiting to get back to their computers, and instead are comfortable making online purchases via their phone. There were 102 million mobile buyers in 2014, and that number is forecast to increase 50% over the next 4 years.
Digital Clarity Group helps in understanding the impact of this mobile shift, “The rapid adoption of smart phones and tablets represents an unprecedented transformation in the way consumers access the web and other digital services…computing services are now available virtually wherever and whenever the user desires them.”
Smartphones – specifically those with app capabilities and web browsers – have taken over a majority of the market in the West, and as a result, we’ve gotten used to seeing data from mobile devices in everyday communication – online and in print media. NGOs in the developing world have worked in this mobile environment almost exclusively, since cell networks have been generally more reliable than wired internet access. In developed countries, consumers are also rapidly shifting to mobile devices for their daily information consumption on the web, as well as local search and ecommerce.
This is not simply about access to the device and the services, but about the access to the data that is changing the way we live.
All aspects of data and research are going mobile. Mobile access to the internet is now more popular globally than desktop access. Smartphone data was used to track the Ebola epidemic among many other public health situations. Weather data is being texted to remote farmers to provide information that was previously inaccessible. Mobile money is equalizing access to financial institutions.
Data journalism and all storytelling with research is also transitioning to accommodate large mobile consumption. Pew research shows that even local news is going mobile, since nearly half of all American adults (47%) report that they get at least some local news and information on their cellphone or tablet computer.
Mobile data visualization is becoming an essential best practice now. Visualizing and making sense of data on a small, interactive screen involves a unique skill set, a new set of standards and different tools. The Knight Foundation recently created MobileVis, an open access no charge site to provide examples, feedback and a community of practice. It’s quite welcoming whether you’re just getting started or have some great examples of your own to share.
Simon Rogers, one of the leaders in the field, makes the case on why the shift to mobile needs to take place in our products and services and points us to some wonderfully successful examples.
Whether it’s monitoring and evaluation in Africa or tracking customer purchases in Manhattan, mobile options are usually cheaper, more accurate and more efficient. With lots of free and paid mobile data collection solutions, the big question now: is your organization making the move to mobile along with your clients and customers?