Futurescape 2013Digital trends for this year

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Social, mobile and video will be at the heart of digital innovation this year. Yet most companies continue to underestimate the speed and impact of these changes. They remain locked in a desktop and text mentality, leaving their products and services in danger of becoming irrelevant to a new digital savvy generation.

Institutions and governments are also lagging dangerously behind, not least because mobile and social undermine traditional hierarchies and decision-making processes. More flexible thinking, more flexible content that works with these trends needs to be embraced at every level, and 2013 is the year when that will seem more obvious than ever.

The past twelve months has shown that digital is no longer just about the PC or laptop. The team behind London 2012 says a staggering 60% of visits to its website came from mobile devices during last year’s Olympics. With record smartphone sales in the run-up to Christmas and new 4G services launching in the UK by the summer, the stage is now set for faster and more reliable connection speeds and a new generation of mobile products and services.

In terms of social media, the British are some of the most active in the world. Over 60% of us now maintaining a Facebook profile and 10 million people in the UK now regularly use Twitter including famous new converts David Cameron, Hugh Grant and Gary Lineker. All this is creating new opportunities for companies and brands to engage with users or network with clients

But the digital world is getting more visual too. Have you noticed how social media feeds are filling up with pictures and videos where previously there were only words? Is it a co-incidence that we find a Ted talk a convenient way of exploring a big idea where previously only a book or New Yorker article would do? Publishers like the BBC and the Guardian are pioneering new forms of picture, video and data storytelling – and with the arrival of interfaces like Windows 8 we even navigate by pictures

So what will the potent combination of social, mobile and video bring in 2013? And what will it mean for brands? Here are 10 trends to watch out for:

1. It’s a multiplatform world
Consumers now expect brands to create seamless experiences with multiple touch-points – not a website and a print product and a mobile site - but a single service that can be accessed on any device at any time. Publishers are increasingly offering subscriptions that reach across print, tablet and online. Consumers are increasingly media multitasking – accessing different types of media at the same time.

2. Here come phablets
It’s the tech trend of the year – the clunky mobile phone - closer in size to a tablet than a traditional smartphone. The phablet describes everything from the oversized Samsung phones to smaller tablets such as Google’s Nexus 7. The market for Phablets is expected to grow four times by 2015 as the larger screen size of between 5” and 7” hits the sweet spot of comfort and affordability for many consumers. Users are consuming more visual content on mobile devices than before, and using them less for voice calls (the phablet's weak spot).

3. Decline of the app
The growth in the number of devices and screens is making it too expensive to create and update bespoke apps for every occasion. As a result we’re seeing an increasing adoption of open HTML5 standards allowing one output to deliver to multiple screens without any plug-ins. The combination with CSS and Javascript allows websites to be reformatted for any device or screen size on the fly – so called ‘responsive design websites’. The Guardian, the BBC and even the UK government (gov.uk) all jumped on the bandwagon in 2012. Even the recently released BBC Sport ‘app’ is essentially just a tweaked HTML5 website distributed through the Apple app store.

4. Brand as a media company
Increasingly we are seeing brands behaving like media companies using the new mobile and social channels to engage customers directly rather than just getting messages out through traditional media. Often this involves investing in original content as a form of marketing. Felix Baumgartner’s free fall from space was an event created by Red Bull with live pictures delivered via its You Tube channel where 32 million saw the clip below - unmediated by a broadcaster.

During the Olympics, British Airways set up a newsroom in Canary Wharf to manage all their marketing and communications messages feeding interviews from their live stage at the Olympic park into YouTube and Facebook along with more traditional communications.

5. Here comes video
With cheaper bandwidth and devices with better multimedia display – video is emerging as one of the most effective ways of telling stories and attracting attention. Kony 2012, a self-published campaigning film by the charity Invisible Children, racked up more than 100m views on YouTube and Vimeo and became one of the world’s most viral videos. With no marketing budget, the film engaged young people around the world to take direct action and even led to a debate and resolution in the US Senate.

Elsewhere Newspapers like the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal are building up video capability and starting TV channels on the web – equipping journalists with smartphones and cheap cameras to generate content. We’re also seeing the emergence of mobile first publishers like Buzzfeed and NowThisNews looking to seed and distribute viral content, while tech start ups like Condition One offer more creative opportunities for video storytelling with its immersive editor and player.

6. Mobile and native advertising
More than 10% of consumer time is spent with the mobile phone but only 1% of advertising is spent this way. This gap will close in 2013 but the results may not be pretty.

Watch out for intrusive new advertising formats on mobile and social websites, text and other push advertising, location-based special promotions linked to shopping in particular, and a growing number of sponsored messages.

Expect some kind of backlash against commercial activity in this most personal space with new rows over privacy and the selling of personal data. There'll be a new breed of mobile ad blockers and at least one social network will offer a premium service with an ad-free experience this year.

7. Indoor Location
We spend most of our time indoors – at home, in shops, offices and restaurants – where GPS doesn't work or is not sufficiently accurate to be useful. This year, we’ll start to see the adoption of new indoor positioning technologies that will enable you to pinpoint the exact location of a painting in an art gallery or items on your shopping list – all via your smartphone.

IndoorAtlas uses magnetic variations found naturally inside buildings to sense location. Bytelite manages location in relation to LED ceiling lights. WifiSLAM uses ambient Wi-Fi signals. Whatever the technology, opportunities for advertisers include targeted promotions or coupons at the time they will have most impact.

8. The wearable web (the fifth screen?)
This year the phone will start to control what we see and what we wear. Vuzix smart glasses (available this year) are visual displays that take augmented reality to the next stage. Now you don’t need to look under the table to get the football results – they can be beamed directly to your eyes. Face recognition linked to Facebook or LinkedIn can provide an instant biography at a party – saving much embarrassment or providing useful lines for a potential business opportunity.

Google has already demonstrated something similar (Google Glass) but that won’t be market ready until 2014.

Other smartphone driven connected screens involve the return of the smart watch.  Pebble is set for big success with devices, which can receive emails and calls, control music and track your movement when running. The watches cost about £100 and there are already 85,000 pre-orders.

9. Crowdfunding and peer-to-peer lending
The banks may have given up lending to small businesses but the internet is starting to fill the gap. Kickstarter launched in the UK in November 2012 and has already driven more than £2m of pledges for 400 projects. Successful schemes include the Ostrich pillow for sleeping on the go (raised £150,000) and Bamboo underwear, made from recycled wood, paper and empowerment – “making the luxury underwear market interesting”.

Funding Circle is a peer-to-peer marketplace, which puts savers in touch with borrowers looking for low cost loans. Lancashire Council is using the website to sidestep the banks and pump prime small local businesses to the tune of around £100,000. Funding Circle has already lent around £70m with gross returns averaging over 9% for lenders.

10. Electronic wallets
As consumers increasing amounts of our life will be controlled by our mobiles in 2013. Bank cards, loyalty cards, travel cards and boarding passes are being sucked out of our physical wallets and becoming integrated into smartphone software.

That means new challenges for the credit card companies. Watch for the mobile operators in the UK -- EE, O2 and Vodafone – who have teamed up to provide a single mobile marketing and wallet service for smartphones this year.

Competition comes from Google and also from Facebook which is likely to launch a "buy button" - similar to its "Like" button but to purchase using FB currency across web, mobile and offline. Others in the space (Zopa, Square etc.) will continue to grow with Square founded by Jack Dorsey tipped for IPO in 2013.

Nic Newman is Totality’s expert advisor on digital media. A digital strategist and former BBC Future Media executive, he is also a research associate at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at Oxford University.

You can read his detailed 30 page predictions for digital media and technology here