Generated Content by David Storey

Mobile first: the revolution is well under way

A little over a year ago, I wrote a post about how countries in Africa were at the foothills of a mobile web revolution. Nigeria had just started seeing more web traffic on mobile devices than traditional desktop, and more countries were on course to follow that lead. This post looks at what progress has been made since then, and what the trends look like going forward.

Africa, millions of mobiles blossom

Nowhere more so than Africa, a real mobile revolution is underway. Since that post in September, the mobile market share vs desktop share in Nigeria has grown to over 70%. As then, the mobile share in many countries rises on weekends and drops during the week. Checking the stats today (11th November, a Sunday), each of the African countries mentioned in the previous post have a larger mobile share than desktop, except Tanzania (which has over 40% mobile share). A number of other African countries have also surpassed the 50% mark for mobile market share. It would be possible to travel from the Niger Delta on the west coast of Africa, to the horn of Africa on the east coast, without passing through a country where people surf more on desktop than a mobile phone.

The following map highlights those countries that are over one third and one half mobile traffic:

Map of mobile share in Africa
Mobile vs Desktop marketshare in Africa (Source: StatCounter)

Today was a particularly good day for mobile traffic, and many countries do drop below 50% mobile share on week days, but it shows the general trend, and progress since last September. The following table highlights this progression:

Country Population Mobile share: 11th November, 2012 Mobile share: 11th September, 2011
Nigeria 166,629,000 72% 54%
Ethiopia 84,320,987  59% 39%
Congo, DRC 69,575,000 45% 17%
Tanzania 43,188,000 43% 24%
Kenya 38,610,097 51% 34%
Uganda 32,939,800 43% 13%
Sudan 30,894,000  51% 30%
Ghana 24,658,823 38% 21%
Mozambique 23,700,715 38% 15%
Niger 16,274,738 55% 25%
Malawi 15,883,000 67% 35%
Mali 14,528,662  76% 5%
Zambia 13,092,666 60% 30%
Zimbabwe 13,014,000 76% 45%
Chad 11,274,106  93% 61%
Somalia 9,797,000  61% 13%
Sierra Leone 6,126,000  87% 20%
Liberia 4,245,000 40% 3%
Lesotho 2,217,000 51% 17%
Swaziland 1,220,000 43% 36%

Asia Pacific: a mobile giant has awoken

Back when I wrote the original post, no countries in Asia had more mobile traffic than desktop traffic. It was however clear that countries in South Asian were going along the same path as Africa. Fast forward over a year, and India has perhaps became one of the most important mobile web markets in the world. It is now consistently has more than 50% mobile traffic, and has became the country with the most Opera Mini users. With its vast population, it has a lot of room for growth.

Map of mobile market share, Asia Pacific
Mobile vs desktop in Asia Pacific

The rest of Asia/Pacific hasn’t advanced as far as Africa, with only Turkmenistan, East Timor, and Papua New Guinea having more mobile traffic than desktop. However, it should’t be too long before Bangladesh (32%) and a number of the central asian countries progress to a mobile first future.

The rest of the world

In comparison, only Cost Rica in the Americas (16%), and the United Kingdom in Europe (19%) have over 15% mobile marketshare.

Smartphones or dumb?

Almost without exception, the top two mobile operating systems in those countries with higher mobile traffic were Nokia Series 40 and Nokia Symbian/S60. The exceptions are Mali and Papua New Guinea where the top OS is unknown (this usually means a proxy browser, which is likely running on a feature phone), and Turkmenistan, where Android has its sole victory.

Nokia Series 40 is firmly a feature phone OS, while Symbian is strictly a smartphone operating system, but the capabilities of phones running it are far from what many of us in the west would consider a smartphone. Many S60 phones don’t even use touch screens, unless they are of relatively recent vintage.

Full browsers or proxy?

Considering the operating systems in use, it is probably no surprise that proxy browsers dominate this landscape. Opera Mini is the most popular browser in all of these countries except Turkmenistan (Android) and Mali, where Nokia is the largest browser. It is not clear if it is Nokia’s Gecko based proxy browser or the full WebKit browser that rules the roost however. Considering the break down of OS, I expect a combination of both.

Looking ahead

It seems a long way off before the west posts the same sort of mobile to desktop ratio that Africa is exhibiting. If it ever does at all. Expect to see further mobile gains in Africa, especially in non-French speaking Sub-Saharan countries. Over in Asia, it seems like much of South, South East and Central Asia are poised to become mobile first countries by the end of next year. South Korea could be the exception in the industrialised world. It is currently sitting on 27%, well above that of neighbouring countries in East Asia, the US and the EU. Whichever way things pan out, it should be an interesting year for mobile web developers.
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