Not that I claim to have read them all, but the one thing that most of the year end MR prognosticators seem to agree on is that 2012 will be the year in which mobile finally takes off. But will that takeoff be more reminiscent of the Wright brothers or the Saturn V?
Larry Gold shows us some interesting numbers on this topic in the January issue of Inside Research. For a number of years now Larry has been maintaining an index of online spend using a group of 25 Honomichl Top 50 companies. (Here I note that my company is one of them.) These numbers are probably the best we have for charting the growth of online over about the last 15 years. On the last round Larry asked participating companies to report revenues for mobile data collection. Looking at a three year trend he estimates for US only $9.4M in 2010, $20.1M in 2011 and a forecast of $32.9M for 2012. That's an increase of 114% in 2011 and 64% for 2012. Impressive growth for sure! And as he points out, he misses revenues from smaller companies who are mostly focused on mobile, although it's not clear how much those smaller companies are likely to increase the overall number.
A couple of comments. The first is that in terms of spend mobile is now about where online was in the late 1990s (without adjusting for inflation) when revenues were doubling and tripling every year. It took until 2004 to top $1B and it's now forecast at $2.5B for 2012. So despite its recent growth, mobile is still in its infancy. The second is that mobile may face stronger headwinds than online. Rightly or wrongly, a lot of the conversion to online from other methods was pretty simple: just administer the same questionnaire using a different sample source. Online also came with a killer app in concept and product testing. Moving to mobile is a good deal more challenging because most of those questionnaires are going to need massive reworking before they are mobile ready. There are some interesting things being tested in terms of breaking up questionnaires into smaller chunks but that's still mostly in the testing stages. And mobile's likely killer app, "in-the-moment research," may not be enough to make it as dominant as online has become.
I don't question that mobile is poised for significant growth. But how soon, how fast and how big it will get are still open questions.