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Even Mary Meeker Can’t Predict Mobile Behavior

John Gaffney |

Mary Meeker is about as close to a guru that that the ultra-cynical digerati can handle. Never heard anyone say a bad thing about her and her analytical skills. She has been right on the growth of social media and dead on about the growth of mobile devices. Not easy to do in a business that makes “exponential growth” a routine expectation.

In her annual state-of-the-Internet speech on May 27, Meeker was typically bold when the subject came to mobile. She said mobile Internet traffic is growing at an annual rate of 81 percent. She predicted that the number of “microelectromechanical systems”—sensors and other components in mobile devices like smartphones and tablets—will become one of the biggest  technology revolutions we’ve seen.

However, there’s one thing no one has nailed so far, even Mary Meeker. No one has been able to accurately predict what consumers will actually do with mobile devices after they buy them. Mobile behavior has defied prediction. Case in point: mobile wallets. Another case in point: Angry Birds.

As several analysts pointed out after the Meeker presentation, mobile consumer behavior has been tough to monetize. If Google can’t monetize mobile….. you know the rest.

Tough to monetize means tough to predict. Just as nobody foresees the fads like Angry Birds exploding, no one can see the exact conditions that will spur financial activity of any kind via a mobile device. Consumers spend more time on these devices, and the most innovative companies are trying to encourage payments and financial management. It should follow that consumers would reach for their mobile wallets and other payment apps at a faster clip and more massive scale, but it’s happening in a gradual fashion rather than Internet speed.

We know some of the reasons why (security, user experience issues). But it will. There’s one pattern that I think some mobile analysts are missing, and it’s the pattern consumer digital behavior takes toward engagement.  Engagement is defined as the desire to interact with frequency and intensity.  As digital applications and devices became more engaging, consumer usage went right with it. When the Internet got fast consumers got on it. When mobile devices came with touchscreens they exploded. When those touchscreens spawned app technology, apps became all things from a mindless distraction to a Zen Meditation center. Digital technology starts with indifference. It makes money with engagement.

It’s hard to predict engagement. But companies can design for it, market to encourage it and keep it at the top of the agenda. Mobile payments and financial technology will follow this path. It just doesn’t have a clean timetable. Or a Mary Meeker prediction.

Topics: Economic Outlook, Mobile, Payments Strategy

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