This article is part of Inc.'s special report on How (and Where) to Make Money in 2013 (and Beyond). Follow the links at the end of the story for more game-changing trends, bold predictions, and hot markets to watch next year.
Nearly half of all Americans own a smartphone. Globally, mobile users are expected to outnumber desktop users by 2014. And the amount of time we spend on mobile devices is growing fast--currently an average of 82 minutes a day, more than twice the amount of time spent two years ago.
"Consumers are accustomed to--even addicted to--always-on, anywhere, anytime connectivity, and the next 12 months will see them push their mobile lust to obsessive, occasionally nearly insane degrees," says David Mattin, lead strategist at Trendwatching.com. These multitasking users are looking to fill microamounts of time (sometimes just seconds) throughout the day and rely on a constant stream of customized data to help them decide where to go, what to do, and what to buy. Businesses that are attuned to mobile consumer behavior can take advantage of these "mobile moments."
Making sure your online presence is optimized for mobile is a no-brainer. A study commissioned by Google found that three-quarters of visitors to a mobile-friendly site will return, but 79 percent of those who find a site difficult to use on their mobile devices will give up and go elsewhere. Do you also need an app? Probably. Minutes spent per month on apps more than doubled from March 2011 to March 2012, according to comScore.
The smartphone, though, is just one of the new screens that businesses will need to grapple with. In 2013, we will see a continuing proliferation of screen sizes and device types--phones, tablets, desktops, Web-connected TVs, and touchscreens in retail and other environments--to accommodate different uses, hand sizes, and personal preferences.
What does it all mean for you? "We're sure to see more mobile commerce arise in new and interesting formats," says Jeremy LaTrasse, CEO of Message Bus, an app that enables messaging across e-mail, mobile, and social networks. Apps will have to be tailored to appeal to on-the-go smartphone users, and they will also have to work with the more leisurely tablet experience.
Boloco, a chain with 22 burrito restaurants on the East Coast, has embraced an all-screens strategy. It offers online ordering through its website and a mobile app (with a 10 percent discount), "mayor" privileges for customers with frequent Foursquare check-ins, touchscreen kiosks to speed wait times, and TV monitors in Boloco outlets showing videos about where the food comes from. Since Boloco introduced its app, online and mobile sales have grown fourfold, at an average check of $9.05, compared with $7.51 for all sales.
Getting ready for total appification is, admittedly, a tall order. Not only must you build apps and other tools, but you also have to formulate a cross-platform marketing strategy and ensure compatibility across different devices. But a host of start-ups is thriving by providing the back-end services. Jay Jamison, a partner at BlueRun Ventures in Menlo Park, California, calls them the "arms dealers of mobile-app infrastructure." They include Parse and StackMob, which give developers quick, easy ways to build apps, and Twilio and Urban Airship, which help automate things such as SMS messaging and location-based notifications.
Fortunately, you don't need to be everywhere or do everything. But you do need to be in the game.