The Next Frontier of the Mobile App Ecosystem

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If there is one thing we’ve all learned over the past two years, it’s to de-emphasize predictions, especially in times of uncertainty. What we can count on is the advancement in mobile technology to continue on its current trajectory, if not faster. 

Just as the shift to e-commerce was accelerated by the change in consumer demand and behavior associated with the pandemic, we’re going to see shifts in how consumers engage with their smartphones — and we’ll witness the different ways that technology further enables that engagement. 

Here are the five mobile marketing-related developments I see happening in 2022, no matter what is going on with the economy, politics, or any of the other highly fluctuating variables we’ve all gotten used to.

Our phones will be truly smart — and not just apps

It’s now well known that we don’t read the same news or see the same promoted content or ads. Every person’s Facebook feed is unique, depending not just on who they are friends with but their expressed political beliefs, demographic blueprint, and how they engage with the content in their feed. And it’s not just Facebook. Every app is “smart” in this way. The BBC app has better recommendations for me than my phone does. 

This is all going to change in the coming year. The focus will shift from apps and websites to making our phones smarter and applying that level of machine learning and AI to the experience of the entire phone. With iOS 15, Apple is going this way; on-device intelligence can recognize and copy text from the camera, for instance, and create personalized song suggestions in photos. Android has also been introducing these types of features with Android System Intelligence (née Device Personalization Services), with personalized recommendations and cross-native-app copy/paste. With Android’s open ecosystem of technology, we will likely see faster development and more use cases as the year unfolds.

We’re going to expand our industry definition of ad inventory

As phones get smarter, something else is going to happen: We’re going to start seeing opportunities to serve relevant sponsored recommendations and advertising content in those “blue ocean” spaces like the home screen. Now before everyone panics about getting ads on their home screen, let me be upfront and say that of course, it has to be done in the right way. We must add value to users, not degrade their experience. 

Fortunately, thanks to targeting technology that allows for highly custom messages, users can get recommendations for content and services that they are likely to actually use and value. And we can leverage native features that allow for integrated ads to be embedded within actions (e.g., swipe left, right) and on previously ignored spaces, such as the lock screen, home screen, notifications, and widgets.

In this way, we’re adding value to all in the mobile ecosystem, driving revenue, and offering up opportunities for app developers and other advertisers to reach new customers. This is better than trying to cram an ad experience into a 320×550 space within a mobile app – which, incidentally, may never even be seen because 77% of users never use an app after three days of downloading it. Many people don’t even download apps; they only use what comes with their phone. 

OEMs and carriers will play a greater role; embedded technologies will take center stage

With consumers spending 85% of their time using native applications, and only a handful of apps that they have downloaded themselves, preloads will become more critical. Preloaded apps aren’t viewed as a third-party piece of software jostling for position in a busy marketplace. Rather, they are seen as an essential part of the device they are hosted on, with explicit purpose and function. Preloaded apps deliver the kind of credibility that drives better user engagement, giving developers and marketers the chance to present their apps in a trusted environment.

The time is right for carriers and OEMs to play a larger role in the mobile ad ecosystem. Virgin Mobile, Sprint, AT&T and even Amazon have toyed with the idea of subsidizing phone and plan costs with the revenue from targeted ads, and even with new privacy legislation in place, it comes down to consumer choice. And we’ve seen evidence in other areas where consumers opt for ads in exchange for value, such as the $10/month option for HBO Max vs. $15/month ad-free.

Data will get more local and create utility through speed

Over the last five years, edge networking has become an essential part of IT infrastructure. And as more IoT and consumer devices (like our smartphones!) flood networks, there will be even more need for distributed computing, where data storage and computing are brought closer to the point of need and away from centralized data centers. With lower latency and reduced bandwidth/transmission costs, this enables our devices to work faster, stronger, and better. 

Beacons, for instance, have been around for nearly a decade, but like QR codes, they were slow to catch on. (And look what happened with those!) I think that beacons and other forms of locally connected, edge-networked data will take on new life in 2022, as marketers continue to extend integrated campaigns and reach consumers at the point of sale. 

Giant leaps forward in video ad technology and attribution

Speaking of speed, as 5G adoption reaches more than one-third of global smartphone volume, those faster data speeds and lower latency connections don’t just bring with them new use cases like VR and connected homes. Mobile video was projected to constitute 80% of mobile web traffic by 2022, and I see that as not just in-app video streaming but also within the mobile web (AMP video and web XR niches) as well. Ad spend in these areas will also increase as marketers see results from their creative campaigns, but also as mobile video attribution continues to improve – unlike in CTV, where it is still lacking. 

Additionally, we will likely see a connection between linear TV campaigns and mobile in new, creative ways, like the Yelp commercial that instructs viewers to shake their phone. By leveraging native features of the phone to enhance (and track!) the CTAs of TV spots, we can make the billions of dollars spent on linear TV now fully attributable. 

In conclusion, 2022 is going to be a year filled with excitement about new technologies and devices with a push towards privacy, control, and decentralization of both form and function. One thing is certain, mobile is here to stay – but it’s still in the early days. I, for one, am looking forward to the next explosive wave of technologies tied to the device in our pockets. 

Matt Tubergen is Executive Vice President of Corporate Development and Global Strategy at Digital Turbine.