By any account, mobile device use exploded in 2010.  Over 63 million smartphones were in use in the U.S.  at the end of last year. As smartphone use has increased, so has the consumption of mobile media. This has led service providers to set limits on free data use and in some cases, growth of inter-related systems has resulted in service issues. Despite these problems,  analysts believe the growth in smart phones will fuel the mobile marketing boom this year but understanding how all of the pieces work together and measuring ROI will become more difficult.

comScore’s  2010 Mobile Year in Review Mobile report indicates that consumers are well on their way to relying on mobile media to get through the day. But analysts are concerned that more providers may begin to cap free data use.  The rate of growth in mobile content consumption could slow significantly if provider plans become “too restrictive or expensive”. Currently, mobile phone ownership with data resembles the following:

  • Phone subscribers with unlimited data plans: 29%
  • Smartphone ownership: 27%
  • 3G/4G phone ownership: 51%

The numbers will certainly grow in 2011 as consumers upgrade their phones. In addition to considering data plans, users are concerned about a variety of smartphone features (on a scale of 1-10):

  • Phone OS: 8.0
  • App selection: 7.6
  • Music/video capabilities: 7.2
  • Brand name: 7.0
  • Social networking features: 6.9

While the media tends to cover the growth in smartphone apps, only 34% of users have accessed apps while 26% have accessed the Internet. These figures will likely increase as the number of younger consumers with smartphones rises. Note that consumers in the 13-17 year old age group are one of the fastest growing segments in upgrading to smartphones.

Marketers should take note of the fastest growing categories accessed by mobile users. Here are the growth rates for last year:

  • Social networking: 56%
  • Classifieds: 55%
  • Online retail: 53%

In the mobile marketing sector and consumer behavior, comScore analysts say “[t]he challenge for marketers and brands will be how to successfully navigate through one of the most complex and rapidly evolving mediums the world has ever seen.”

[Source: comScore 2010 Mobile Year in Review. comScore.com. 2011. Web. 22 Mar 2011; Survey Reveals Nearly Half of Smartphone Users Blame Mobile Providers for Service Issues. Empiri.com. 9 Mar. 2011. Web. 22 Mar 2011]