Evans has stated the case quite forcefully, now I’m going to play Devil’s Adovcate…
Yes, it’s true – and amazing – that consumers in the developed world (and some in the developing world) are actually carrying around the 1980s equivalent of a supercomputer in their pockets.
It’s also true that time spent on mobile apps is significantly eating into traditional Web time, the same way that Web time ate into TV time. (After all, there are only 24 hours in the day and something has to give.)
These changes are especially pronounced among the young. (This is just one story, but it reveals a lot. A recent focus group of 37 American teenagers were asked how many watched a lot of TV. Only one student raised his hand.)
It’s also true that Internet access and SmartPhones are finding their way into the developing world – India, China, Africa, Latin America, Southeast Asia, the Middle East – in ever increasing numbers. Data service is still expensive (or unavailable at any price) in a lot of these places, but that may well change.
For companies that offer simpleminded services – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc – that are easily adapted into multiple languages and fill simple, universal and powerful needs (basic info, antidote to boredom, antidote to loneliness), this is a Bonanza of epic proportions.
For the equivalent of corporate spare change, these companies can and have created huge global brands with massive followings and billions – count ’em – billions of users.
But what about the rest of us?
Will we be able to cash in on the fact that an indigenous Guatemalan school girl living in the rural highlands will be able to access the Internet with the equivalent of a super computer?
Having traveled extensively in the developing world and experienced it on the ground – not theoretical – level, I have some questions:
Assuming that SmartPhones and even fast and locally-affordable Internet connectivity are put into the hands of every person on earth, have you considered that a huge proportion of people in the developing world are so poor that the expenses of bare survival take up 100% (and sometimes more) of their income?
And that for them the basic infrastructure and services that we take for granted like the reliable shipping of goods from Point A to Point B is still a far away dream?
This reality kind of knocks the legs out of the idea that the newly connected billions will be: a) good candidates for eCommerce and b) good candidates for developed world-priced advertising.
Most likely, the newly connected will use their supercomputer-powered SmartPhones to do exactly what I see people using them for in public spaces in the US: playing games, listening to music, communicating with friends, and exchanging pictures of cute puppies.
In other words, the big change in tech may not be so big after all in the short term – unless of course you make and sell SmartPhones.
The wild card in this equation is education.
Like the weed that has to push its way through the concrete to see the light of day, somewhere in this mess of games, pop music, and other time-blasting activities, a motivated few are going to discover the riches available to those who want to learn about the world beyond their village, their valley, their province.
This will eventually have a massive impact on the course of humanity, but I would not put it in your quarterly or even annual projections yet.
The best markets for us – people who sell real things to real people – are still the English-speaking places of the developed world: The US, Canada, the UK, Australia and all the other places on earth where people speak English, have disposable income and are plugged into a mail system that can actually deliver things.
We take a huge amount for granted in the developed world…
Our infrastructure, neglected as it is, is epic.
The universality of the English language is a commercial miracle. (India alone has over one dozen major languages and China as many dialects.)
Even just one of our customers, broke and over-extended as they may be, can actually possess more buying power than an entire Third World Village.
So, yes, keep your eye on the future and look forward to the eventual emergence of a tidal wave of previously untapped human talent and potential. And definitely adapt your offerings every way you can to be more and more mobile-friendly.
But don’t be distracted away from what we’ve got right now and for the foreseeable future: A massive market of buyers who all speak the same language, have ample discretionary income, and can reliably receive the letters, catalogs and product shipments you send to them via old-fashioned, but still highly impactful “snail mail.”