With the year drawing to a close, we here at Mobile Marketing Towers have been getting nostalgic about the best - and worst - the past 12 months have had to offer. So we conducted a straw poll of our editorial team, and asked each hack to choose the most memorable story, trend and acquisition of the year just gone.
We picked our biggest stories yesterday, but today we're concentrating on what industry trends we saw emerging this year.
I don’t know exactly what it was that triggered the flood of interest in real-time bidding and programmatic buying in 2013, but it has been remarkable to see how many “traditional” ad networks have added it to their skillset. It’s not as if it was new on the scene – the first company to go out on a Mobile DSP ticket was StrikeAd in 2010, with the tech by then already established on the desktop web. In 2013, it seemed, the rest of the mobile advertising world decided to join in.
Victor Malachard, CEO of Adfonic, which migrated from an ad network to a DSP (Demand Side Platform) in October 2012, explained the appeal of programmatic buying to me thus when I interviewed him in October:
“Ad networks are in a difficult place. They need to deliver strong eCPMs for publishers and strong results for advertisers, and it’s difficult trying to juggle both. So we opted for the demand side, which is not so much about buying inventory, but about delivering reach, engagement and results. So there’s a sense in which we don’t really care about the inventory; we just want to connect advertisers with relevant users and maximise engagement through data-driven algorithmic buying, largely done via the exchanges.”
So whereas an ad network is trying to balance the conflicting interests of two sets of partners – advertisers, who want to reach the right people as cost-effectively/cheaply as possible, and publishers who want the ad networks to get as much money out of advertisers for their inventory as possible – a DSP says, forget the publishers, we’ll get all our inventory from the exchanges, put a super-smart algorithm into play and let the advertisers use that to say 'these are the kind of people I want to reach and this is how much I am prepared to pay to reach them, algorithm, go do your stuff'.
I can certainly see the appeal for advertisers; the ability to bid on an advertising inventory source in real time for the opportunity to show one specific ad to one consumer in one specific context (thanks to Rocketfuel’s whitepaper for that very succinct definition) promises an almost unheard of degree of granularity in targeting. I just don’t know where this leaves the hundreds of ad networks out there. There have seemed to me to be way too many for far too long for all of them to survive. The rise and rise of programmatic buying, I feel sure, will hasten the demise of those not fleet-footed enough to change tack.
With wearables still strictly the preserve of a small number of early adopters, it almost feels like cheating to pick the technology as 2013's biggest trend. But in a year in which the first smartwatch models hit the market and I tried out both Google Glass and Vuzix's enterprise-focused alternative, it seemed like the only choice.
As the mobile and tablet ecosystem starts to settle into a comfortable pattern, and with the twice-yearly Apple events rolling past without a single spark of real innovation, these devices provide the clearest – and most compelling – vision of what might be next.
Make no mistake, though. The next few years are going to be an uphill struggle for the manufacturers of wearable devices. The results of a recent GfK survey suggest that there's not currently much interest in wearable technology – least of all smart glasses, with just 16 per cent in the US and UK saying they had any intention of buying a pair.
Trying out the technology for myself earlier this year, the limitations quickly became apparent. Between their small displays and the limited input available to the wearer, smart glasses and watches are both currently dependent on a supporting handset for more complex tasks.
Nevertheless, this was the year that these devices, which have seemed like distant pipe dreams for a long time, became real tangible objects. They might not be up to scratch yet, and might have many practical applications, but when we look back on the wearables industry in ten years' time – speaking a voice command into our watch and scanning the Google results as they're projected in front of our eyes – 2013 will be remembered as the year it all began.
While ‘tech for good’ is almost synonymous with the internet itself, founded on the basis that it should give democratic access to information for all, this year I’ve loved seeing how organisations are finding innovative ways to use mobile to make our world a better place.
Especially when we can all get a bit bogged down in the minutia of CPC, CPM and the ever-coveted LTV. Whether it is improving lives in the developing world, transforming public services or helping to coordinate political change, tech, and particularly mobile, is changing and saving lives all over the world.
Fairphone, a crowdfunded ethical handset launched this year, is hopefully the first in a long line of companies that can start to ensure ‘nobody was harmed in the making of this device’. That’s not only by proving that they can get smartphone components from conflict-free mines and treat their workers fairly, but also by pressuring big corporations to use their power and money to improve their manufacturing and production practices.
Organisations like Apps for Good, Decoded and Freeformers are all helping to bring the spirit of the internet to the UK by providing much-needed training for young people and teachers in digital skills. We’ve all heard there’s a skills gap, particularly in developer roles, but rather than looking outside for a quick win, we have to invest in our young people or risk failing a generation of digital natives.
Access to the internet – wherever we are – is something that we demand, let alone take for granted. The father of the internet Tim Berners-Lee recently called on ordinary citizens to protect this resource from censorship and surveillance via his Web We Want initative. Technology is increasingly, unavoidably intertwined with politics. What I’d like to call technolotics.
Look out for a trend for guilt-free status products in 2014, and see consumer money move accordingly.
We'll be back tomorrow with our picks for the biggest acquisition of 2013.