2012 was a big year for smartphones, apps and mobile entertainment, but 2013 promises to be even better. Here are seven areas worth getting excited about if you're in or around the mobile, media and/or entertainment industries. Watch for these to be big items at this year's Consumer Electronics Show next week as well.
1. Android and iOS go to the mat - everybody wins. Industry analyst Gartner reckons that between them, Android and iPhone accounted for 86.3% of worldwide smartphone sales in the third quarter of 2012. The competition between them is unequal in sheer numbers – 122.5 million Android handsets and 23.6 million iPhones in Q3 – but what's important for 2013 is the prospect of Apple and Google pushing one another to new heights in the features and user experience of their respective platforms. Both have challenges in store – Maps for Apple, creating a thriving market for paid apps for Google, and grappling with the discovery challenges of stores with 700,000-plus apps for both. The great news for consumers, advertisers and developers alike is that the competition means neither can afford to rest on their laurels.
2. Windows Phone 8 and BlackBerry 10: final call. Is there room for a third ecosystem in the smartphone world? 2013 feels like a crucial year for Microsoft and RIM, in a last-chance-saloon way. This is the year for Windows Phone 8 and/or BlackBerry 10 to prove they have a viable future – if they sputter, developers will flee. Windows Phone 8 is a good OS with some impressive handsets already, while BlackBerry 10 has been winning warm praise from even the most skeptical journalists and analysts. But being good isn't enough: the key will be getting the phones into people's hands, and particularly whether operators get behind one or both of these platforms as an alternative to iOS and Android.
3. Social gambling is big, but scary. Pretty much every big social games company, from Zynga downwards, is hoping for big winnings from real-money gambling in 2013. They've been hiring staff with experience in the online/mobile gambling industry, striking partnerships and preparing to take what they've learned from social games and apply it to gambling. The worry is that these companies are so excited about potential profits, they haven't thought enough about their players: how big a demand there is for social gambling, and whether they're set up to deal with new responsibilities – problem gambling being the biggest example.
4. Children's apps proliferate. Will they prosper? Children's apps is a bustling space with lots of big brands, even more creative indie developers, and a glut of releases not quite hiding the nagging questions about how many are actually making decent money. 2013 is the year I think we'll see more success stories in the kid-apps world, with recent moves by Microsoft ( Windows Phone 8's Kid's Corner feature) and Amazon (Kindle FreeTimeUnlimited) hopefully nudging Apple and Google to do even more on their own platforms for parents.
5. Shopping: There's an app for that. Christmas 2012 was a monster for mobile and tablet shopping, from present-buying in the weeks before, to the retailer sales that kicked off digitally on December 25, in time for some post-Santa bargain-hunting. This set us up for 2013, when every big retailer will have a decent app (and, increasingly, a decent mobile website too), spurred by competition from the likes of Fab,eBay, Etsy and Amazon's small-screen innovation.
6. Angry Birds: It's more than a game. We know this already, kind of: Angry Birds is now a multimillion-selling line of plush toys, sweets, clothing… But 2013 will be the year Rovio's birds (and pigs) deliver on their promise as a multi-platform entertainment brand. Watch for the long-awaited Angry Birds cartoon – likely to be watched by hundreds of millions of people on YouTube and in apps, rather than on traditional TV channels. And where they lead, other mobile-originated characters like Cut the Rope's Om Nom, Talking Tom Cat and his feline friends Ginger and Angela, and Swampy the alligator from Disney's Where's My Water? will be following.
7. Gimmicks are over for second-screen and augmented reality apps - time to get serious. 2013 will be a shakeout year for some much-hyped mobile technologies, including second-screen social TV apps, and augmented reality. Dozens of startups have promised big things for all three, but it's all about the 'M' word this year: meaningful. Which apps are genuinely meaningful for users rather than gimmicks, and which can see their way to meaningful business models? For all the fuss around Zeebox, GetGlue, Miso, IntoNow and other social TV startups, the 900 pound gorillas of 'chatting about television while watching' are still Twitter and Facebook. Meanwhile, too much AR still feels gimmicky, epitomized by music marketing campaigns suggesting fans get digital content by pointing phones at physical CD covers. We'll figure out what's meaningful in both camps in 2013, with a lot of the meaningless examples melting away quietly.
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