What the Latest Trends in Mobile Tech Mean for Historic Sites

comScore, Inc., a leader in measuring the digital world, recently released its 2012 Mobile Future in Focus report. This annual report examines the use of mobile devices (e.g., smartphones, tablets) in 2011 in the United States, Canada, and overseas (France, Germany, Italy, Spain, United Kingdom, Japan).  According to Mark Donovan, comScore Senior Vice President of Mobile:

2011 proved to be a groundbreaking year for the mobile industry, with smartphones hitting the mainstream, tablets emerging as a formidable fourth screen, and consumers increasingly integrating mobile behaviors into their lifestyles. As the industry continues to innovate and more consumers look to multiple devices and platforms to consume digital media, we expect the mobile and connected device landscape to be shaken up even further in 2012.  As mobile channels present a more personal, social, and ubiquitous experience to consumers, advertisers and publishers have an opportunity to better engage target audiences, given an understanding of how to connect and leverage the unique characteristics of these emerging platforms.

For history organizations and historic sites, some of the findings you’ll find most applicable are:

  • Smartphones Gain Adoption Among ‘Early Majority’, Driving Mobile Media Consumption.  “Nearly 42 percent of all U.S. mobile subscribers now use smartphones, along with 44.0 percent of mobile users across the EU5 (comprised of France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the UK). Mobile media use – defined as browsing the mobile web, accessing applications, or downloading content – saw increased growth as a result, surpassing the 50-percent threshold in many markets, supported by the proliferation of high-speed networks and increased public WiFi availability.”  Nearly half of cell phone users have internet access, so ensure your website is maintained and up-to-date because increasing numbers of people will be using the smartphones to make decisions as they travel.  What we don’t know is how popular smartphones are among visitors to historic sites and history museums–that may be something to explore at your site (just ask!).
  • Mobile Retail Information Leads to Emergence of Smartphone Shopping Behaviors.  “More than half of the U.S. smartphone population used their phone to perform retail research while inside a store in 2011, illustrating the emergence of savvy smartphone shoppers who bring online shopping behaviors in-store – a trend seen in other markets as well. At the end of 2011, nearly 1 in 5 smartphone users scanned product barcodes and nearly 1 in 8 compared prices on their phone while in a store.”  You may discover that visitors are looking at their phones when they are in your store.  They could be evaluating your products, comparing prices, or making a purchase (“this is a great book, let me order it on Amazon.com so I don’t have to carry it with me now”).  Your little museum store has just become part of the global marketplace so you’ll need to increasingly think about what’s distinctive, unique, or better than your competitors around the world and may have to change your inventory in response.   And I bet that visitors will be doing the same comparison soon as they choose among the many things to do in your community (“hmm, should we go to an historic site, a winery, or downtown?  Let’s see what Yelp recommends.”).
  • Mobile Devices Fuel Social Networking On-The-Go, Driving Real-Time Online Interaction.  “64.2 million U.S. smartphone users and 48.4 million EU5 smartphone users accessed social networking sites or blogs on their mobile devices at least once in December 2011, with more than half of these mobile social networking users accessing social media almost every day. While mobile social networking users showed the highest propensity to read posts from people they knew personally, more than half of those in the U.S. and nearly half in the EU5 also reported reading posts from brands, organizations, and events.”  With so many people using social media such as Facebook, Google+, Flickr, Yelp, and Foursquare, remind them to share their experiences of your site (at the end of the tour, remind visitors to share their visit on Facebook and Yelp).  You’ll slowly build a reputation.  And if you haven’t already, be sure to create and maintain a page in Facebook, Google+, Flickr, Yelp, or Foursquare.
  • Mobile Connectivity and Connected Devices Encourage Cross-Platform Digital Media Consumption among ‘Digital Omnivores’.  “Tablets quickly rose in popularity in 2011, taking less than two years to account for nearly 40 million tablets in use among U.S. mobile users and outpacing smartphones which took 7 years to reach the same. By the end of 2011, nearly 15 percent of U.S. mobile users also had tablets – a trend seen across other markets as well.”  Tablets are quickly becoming a common technology along with smartphones and laptop computers.  That won’t affect historic sites very much as long as you keep your website and apps up to date (see below), but it may open up a new opportunity for producing unique digital guides or visitor experiences through Kindle or iBooks.  Apps, e-books, or websites designed for tablets may soon replace or supplement portable DVDs, podcasts, and audioguides.

Thinking about developing an app?

  • Smartphone Platform Wars Intensify As Android and Apple Take the Lead in Most Markets.  “The Google Android and Apple iOS smartphone platforms emerged as the leaders of the U.S. smartphone market in 2011, with Android just a few points shy of capturing half of the smartphone market and iOS accounting for nearly 30 percent of the market. In the EU5, Android saw similarly significant gains, unseating market leader Symbian in 3 out of the 5 European markets measured.”  If you are developing an app, sorry, you’ll still need to develop it for both Android and Apple iOS.
  • Surge in Mobile App Usage Shapes a Dual Mobile Browsing Experience, Fueling Category Growth.  “In 2011, both the U.S. and EU5 saw the growth in mobile app use exceed the growth in mobile browser use, leading to both markets seeing the same percentage of their mobile audience use both apps and browsers to access mobile media. Health ranked as the fastest-growing mobile media category in the U.S. in 2011, followed by Retail and other commerce-related categories such as Electronic Payments and Auction Sites.”  The use of apps has grown this past year and it looks like it’s caught up to mobile browser use–smartphone owners are using apps and internet browsers at the same rate  (if these distinctions are confusing, check out the explanation at the New Media Campaigns blog).  And if you aren’t thinking about online sales and payments, start now or risk losing revenue (check out PayPal and Google Checkout and see if they still have special rates for non-profits).

For more details, download a free copy of 2012 Mobile Future in Focus report.