2011: The Mobile Year In Review

What a year it was in the world of mobile! Of course, you’d know that already if you’re a regular here at mobileapptesting.com. The real question is what were the year’s biggest stories and developments? Well, we’d have a hard time arguing against CNN.com. Here’s an abbreviated version of the their top 10 stories in mobile tech (many of which have a great deal to do with mobile app testing). Enjoy!

1. Goodbye (mostly) to unlimited data plans; hello throttling. The digital divide between those with high-speed Internet access and those without remains a huge problem in the United States and elsewhere, leading to significant inequities of opportunities and services.

2. Growth of mobile streaming media. It seemed to be the year when streaming media for mobile really took off. According to The Nielsen Company, 14% of U.S. mobile users (about 31 million people) now watch videos on their smartphones and feature phones, a 35% increase over last year. Also, 29% of U.S. smartphone users stream music or Internet radio to their phones, up 66% from 2010

3. 4G network rollouts. This year, all major U.S. carriers and several of the discount regional ones were busy rolling out their faster 4G networks. This label comprises three major technologies: long-term evolution (LTE, used by Sprint, Verizon and MetroPCS), HSPA+ (used by AT&T and T-Mobile), and WiMAX (provided by Clearwire and resold by Sprint in some cities). These technologies offer different speeds, strengths and weaknesses — so what the 4G experience means to consumers will vary widely by carrier and location.

4. BlackBerry outage and continuing RIM decline. For several years, even after the first iPhone launched, Research in Motion’s BlackBerry line of phones was the 800-pound gorilla of the U.S. smartphone market. This was driven mainly by business users, who were attracted to the phone’s advanced messaging and encryption features.

5. Android commands half the U.S. mobile market. According to ComScore, as of October 2011 the Android operating system was used on more than 46% of U.S. smartphones. If this growth continues, then by now Google’s open mobile platform may already be on about half of all U.S. smartphones in use. This leaves Apple’s iOS in second place with nearly a third of all smartphones, and all other platforms (Windows Mobile, BlackBerry, etc.) occupying far smaller market segments.

6. Mobile payment infrastructure begins. There were predictions, as by Forrester Research, that 2011 might be the year when using your phone to pay for stuff in stores would become commonplace. That hasn’t quite happened yet — except at Starbucks, whose mobile app has processed 26 million transactions since its January launch.

7. The debut of smaller, cheaper e-reader tablets. This new category of mobile devices actually began in 2010 with the launch of the Nook Color, which costs about $250. But in October, the launch of the Kobo Vox and Kindle Fire — both of which cost about $200, and even less with some holiday deals — signaled a watershed moment for affordable tablets.

8. Mobile privacy concerns increase. Most people consider their cell phones to be personal and private devices, and they react strongly when that privacy is threatened.

9. Voice interface progress continues. Android phones have long had pretty useful and popular voice control options, as well as turn-by-turn voice navigation. But this year Apple made a big splash in the field of mobile voice interface with “Siri,” a much-publicized new feature of the latest version of the iOS mobile operating system. It allows you to ask questions, get directions or execute certain tasks (such as setting a reminder) with simple natural-language voice commands.

10. Steve Jobs’ mobile legacy. There was a lot of hyperbole after the death of Apple’s founder — perhaps only rivaled by North Korea’s public grief this week over the death of dictator Kim Jong Il. But Jobs was a brilliant visionary who revolutionized the very concept of what mobile devices can do and the roles they can play in our lives.

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