Mobile applications as the second Web

mobilewebYou might think the iPhone has conquered the mobile universe, certainly in the US. Or at least, that’s what the bulk of articles published in 2009 seem to indicate. While the iPhone has heavily influenced mobile in the states and abroad, the numbers overstate the scenario dramatically. As a result, some amazing shifts haven’t gotten much notice.

It’s articles like this one that are the problem. In this instance, the Net Applications data looks at Web browser market share for mobile devices, but in the methodology caveats listed on Net Applications’ site, it points out that the browsers needed to be HTML and JavaScript compliant. Well, no wonder the iPhone has such a commanding lead — tons of other feature phone and even smartphone mobile browsers aren’t included.

Other articles cite AdMob’s data to suggest that 50 percent of mobile web browsing comes from the iPhone and iPod Touch, at least for smartphones. The problem here is that AdMob’s data represents ad impressions, and includes impressions from applications. So yes, the iPhone and iPod Touch get served 50 percent of AdMob’s ad impressions for smartphones in the US, and 29 percent of the ad impressions for all of US mobile. But how much of that is from applications, and how much from Web traffic?

If we combine those two sets of data, we can get some interesting insights. AdMob only introduced an application ad network for Android in Jan 2009, so their Jan 2009 report is fairly representative of pure Android Web traffic. Android also happens to be HTML and JavaScript compliant, a perfect fit for Net Applications data.  Since the February Net Applications data represents pure Web traffic for the iPhone and iPod Touch, the Android data in both Net Applications data and AdMob’s data represents pure Web, and the AdMob iPhone/iPod Touch data represents web and application traffic, we can solve for how much of AdMob’s ad impressions on Apple devices come from applications. Still with me?

The point is, after calculations, it turns out that an estimated 55 percent of AdMob’s requests for Apple devices are from applications. This number should still be highly suspect, due to the very small percent of total Web traffic Android represented  small errors there could have greatly skewed the results.  However, this number is fairly close to the 2.5 times increase in ad impressions Android saw between Jan 2009 and March of 2009 after the application ad network was released (assuming all of that growth was from in-app ads, those would account for 60% of March’s Android impressions). Also, AdMob confirmed that at least half of the iPhone/iPod Touch impressions were served to apps, but couldn’t go into more detail.

What does this mean? Well, assuming the 55 percent is true, it means that in Jan 2009, the iPhone and iPod Touch accounted for 15.6% of the total US mobile Web traffic (according to the AdMob Jan 2009 data, after recalculating to ignore apps).  But more importantly, it indicates that on devices that have application marketplaces and high quality apps, there is as much an opportunity for mobile advertising as there exists on the Web. As this becomes the standard practice for smartphones, we’ll see increases in ad impressions from both full HTML rendered browsers as well as additional growth of equal or greater volume from in-app ads. As a pure guess-timate, this suggests a potential fourfold increase in RIM and Windows Mobile display advertising volume over the next two years.