The future’s mobile. It might also be bleak

This morning’s Observer column.

But it’s when one sees how all these people access the net that the data leap into life. Meeker claims that the world now has 1.1 billion smartphone users, ie people who can access the internet and use the web via a handheld device. This trend is reinforced by other developments. A third of US adults now own a tablet or e-reader (up from 2% less than three years ago). And Apple’s iPad is the fastest-selling mobile device of all time (which, in the internet world, means “until the next Big Thing”). There’s a serious trend here.

The really staggering figures, however, are those relating to how people use their mobile devices. They already account for 13% of all internet traffic. This year, 24% of all online shopping on “black Friday” in the US was done via mobiles (up from 6% two years ago). And Meeker claims that in May this year mobile internet traffic in India overtook PC-based traffic.

What do these statistics mean? Well, basically they imply that the future’s mobile. We’re heading for a world in which most people will access the internet via handheld devices – phones and tablets. And this is a really big deal. On the one hand, it will make it easy for billions of people to integrate the net into their daily lives, with all the benefits that that can bring. On the other hand, it will greatly enhance the powers of corporations that few of us have any reason to trust.