This month saw the release of Mary Meeker’s highly anticipated Internet Trends Report 2017. Every year, her report guides digital strategies around the world, giving predictions of what is to come in the next year like an annual tablet being passed down from the online mount.
Commentators on this year’s report focused on the addition of a significant digital health section, that shows the extent to which technology is impacting our very lives. They believe that the rapid movement of personal medical data will usher in a new wave of digital health that will make Fitbit seem distinctly 8-bit. However, there are valuable insights for publishers and media more broadly, too. Here are my top five - should the prospect of reading the full 355-page report feel daunting.
1. Mobile is the dominant digital platform
It used to be a case of ‘does my website also work on mobile?' In the past few years, this has changed to a truly mobile first strategy. Now that we check our phones on average over 100 times a day, and the device is closer to an additional limb than useful gadget, mobile projects such as Hachette’s Belgravia and digital mobile strategies should rule the roost for the coming year.
2. Speech is the next interface to all our experiences
Fast forward to next year, and conversations will be all about the spoken word. Touchscreens like the iPhone feel natural to us now, but will soon seem as clunky as using the ‘Tab’ key to navigate a screen. Speech interfaces are about to take over our lives. Amazon’s Echo shows how seamless it is to find music, compose emails and organize calendars simply by asking rather than struggling through layers of software programmes and documents.
3. Video games are the motherlode of digital media
A mainstream audience which is gender neutral and has a high disposable income? A growing marketplace which already surpasses revenues from film and television? This is the video games industry. Games such as Firewatch, and Annapurna Pictures What Remains of Edith Finch? are setting the bar for how to tell stories as games. They are emotionally compelling, tense and immersive – and presage a future of writing that is valuable for publishers to master.
If you are working for a publisher with a digital strategy, and have a CEO who does not understand video games, it is now akin to having a CEO who does not read books or watch films. Inspirational business leaders understand video games and game theory. As Stanford professor Byron Reeves predicted ten years ago: “If you want to see what business leadership may look like in three to five years, look at what’s happening in online games”. Ten years on and Meeker’s report highlights how this trend has emerged.
4. Media evolution is happening at a torrid pace
Cross-pollination of media is a not a new thing. Newspaper publishers are video broadcasters, book publishers commission podcasts and audiobooks, and movie studios create games. This has contributed to an unprecedented pace of innovation and removed the silos between different media types. The clearest example of this has been the music industry, which tried to block the consumption of music on digital platforms. As a direct result it saw revenues fall and new digital companies like Apple, Google and Spotify take their revenue. Watch out.
5. User experience design is a greater focus than technology builds
And finally, perhaps the foundations of digital technology have started to stabilise. Non-technical business now have accessible tools to create new products. We have moved from ‘what is it?’ to ‘what can we do with it?’, and the answers are diverse, imaginative and groundbreaking. In front of all these ideas is the user experience.
As users, we love well-thought out products and have little patience for badly designed ones. Indeed, as technology becomes more of a part of our homes, we want the experience to look and feel like it is part of our homes - rather than the office. Amazon’s Alexa product works partly because it feels human, and therefore becomes not only part of the home, but part of the family.
And perhaps this could be the theme of this year’s report: that digital media has progressed through being a tool in the workplace, through being a tool at home, to now being part of our lifestyles, of our storytelling diet - and of our personalities. It's an essential perspective for publishers to recognise.