The Rise of Mobile (Advertising) – How it Happened and Where We’re Going

The rise of mobile is as interesting as it was fast.

With the arrival of multitouch, full-screen, data-driven phones, the world changed forever. This wasn’t just a convenient way to call people on the go; this was a personal computer in your pocket.

Shortly after the arrival of the smartphone came a sea of apps. Millions upon millions of utilities, tools, games, and more became available in just a few short years.

Mobile offered developers (and later advertisers) something unique: access to users no matter where they are and what they’re doing.

If your wallet is with you, your phone is probably with you, too.

This gives users convenience, but it also offers advertisers previously unimaginable access to users.

Today, free-to-play apps and games dominate the mobile form factor, many of them making money solely by serving ads to users.

Any modern website takes mobile into account, and so do online advertisers. This article presents the story of how the mobile revolution came to be and why it is the future of advertising.

A Short History of Mobile

The history of mobile phones as we know them today is not long, and the history of smartphones is even shorter. As is so common in tech, an entire industry, and indeed the world, was revolutionized in decades. Sometimes, it’s difficult to believe that the first iPhone was only released 12 years ago.

Yet today these devices are ubiquitous.

Imagine a world without Wikipedia, maps, reviews, and games in your pocket. How did you communicate with loved ones before WhatsApp and FaceTime?

Could you give those up? Most people probably couldn’t.

The first cellphone was released by Motorola back in the early 1980s. Due to their weight and size, these giant, unwieldy phones were often jokingly called “brick” phones. These phones were difficult to use, had spotty coverage, and could only make calls.

But they were incredibly convenient nonetheless.

One could leave his giant Motorola phone in the car and call his wife as he left work. Businessmen could stay in touch with the office no matter where they were (perhaps to their chagrin) — ditto for lawyers, accountants, and politicians. The urban elite were the early adopters of yesterday’s cell phones.

Even if the phone mostly stayed in the car, it was a revolution in connectivity.

And it developed at a lightning pace.

To understand the evolution from the “brick” phone into what we know today, one must look at another, separate development that occurred long after the first Motorola phone came out: the PDA.

In 1996, now-defunct Palm released the first Personal Digital Assistant, the PalmPilot 1000. It unified one’s address book, calendar, and a host of other useful features that helped one stay organized on the go.

But it was a simple device. At first, there was no browsing the web or downloading apps.

With the Palm Treo and the Blackberry, these the PDA and the cellphone were combined. Now one device offered calls, texts, PDA functionality, and even basic internet browsing.

This was the beginning of a revolution, and even with their limited functionality and cramped form factor, these early smartphones took the business world by storm.

The Rise of Online Browsing

Browsing the web on these devices remained difficult. The sites were optimized for use with a mouse, something which made navigation near impossible on early smartphones.

But that all changed in 2007 when Steve Jobs announced the long-rumored iPhone at MacWorld in January. Released to consumers just six months after the announcement, the iPhone became a must-have device.

The iPhone introduced a totally new form factor. There were no more hardware keyboards, no more awkward resistive touch screens, no more unintuitive user interfaces. Now the entire phone was a screen, and users could easily navigate with an advanced capacitive touchscreen.

These new features allowed for a new, user-friendly mobile browsing experience.

And consumers loved it.

Then came the App Store(s)

At first, the iPhone didn’t have much in the way native apps. For third-party developers, it only allowed for Safari-based “apps,” but nothing built at the system level. The App Store changed that when it launched a year later on July 2008, right before the release of the iPhone 3G.

The creation of the App Store allowed developers to create a plethora of exciting and engaging native applications that could be sold directly to iPhone users in the phone itself.

It created an entire ecosystem that quickly became one of the primary selling points of the iPhone.

With time, Google, Nokia, Palm, and Microsoft launched their own multitouch-focused operating systems and app stores derivatives.

Mobile browsing and app usage exploded. Website owners scrambled to build mobile-focused versions of their websites, and advertisers followed suit.

Advertisers move to mobile

Advertisers quickly realized that mobile was a whole new frontier.

People were carrying their smartphones with them everywhere and using them to fill all of their downtime during the day. This pervasive casual use created a totally new opportunity to reach consumers.

Advertisers knew it was a goldmine right away, but it took them a little while to realize that it was the motherload.

Not only could advertisers now reach internet users at all hours of the day, but now they could also advertise directly in the applications themselves.

A whole manner of apps and free-to-play games were springing up that needed to find a way to monetize, and advertisers were more than happy to fill that need.

The huge growth that the mobile advertising industry has experienced clearly reflects this. For example, AppsFlyer predicts that by 2020, App Install Ad Spend will reach 64.1 Billion USD.

The Future is now, the Future is Mobile

The best way to understand just how much mobile has come to dominate daily life is to look at statistics regarding smartphone usage.

According to an eMarketer report, the average American adult spends 3 hours and 30 minutes on his phone per day. They estimate that that number will grow by 6.5% in 2019

What users doing with all that time on the phone? Well, they spend much of it online. Statista reports that almost 48 percent of global page views in February 2019 came from mobile devices.

As recently as 2006, most “smartphones” could hardly browse the web; now, it makes up almost half of all consumer web use. That is a sea change of almost unimaginable proportions.

And Pew Research reports that over 96% of Americans own a mobile device.

In short, smartphone usage is exceptionally high among all strata of modern society.

For advertisers, this means that no matter who they want to reach, they can reach them on mobile.

A Turn towards Tablets

The tablet as a form factor had a more complicated development. Convertible laptops with tactile input had been around for quite some time, but it was only with the iPad that it really exploded in popularity.

Tablets offer a mobile experience that outright beats other mobile form factors (namely the smartphone and phablet) in many regards. For example, it offers much more screen real estate. Simply making the screen larger makes things like watching movies, playing games, and writing long emails significantly easier.

The tablet essentially filled a gap that the smartphone couldn’t, but it’s still much more akin to a phone than a laptop. Tablets often have cellular connections, their interface is limited and touch-based, customization options are minimal, and almost all native app comes through the App Store.

In short, Tablets offered a second mobile environment for advertisers.

And their market penetration is also very high. According to the same 2019 Pew Research, almost 50% of adults in the USA own a tablet of some kind.

The Developing World is Mobile

One of the most interesting phenomena that we have seen in developing countries over the last few decades is the propensity to “leapfrog” certain technologies.

A classic example of this is the direct adoption of mobile phones rather than developing a traditional phone line system. Developed countries didn’t have a choice. They built infrastructure as it was invented and now have significant legacy infrastructure (e.g. fixed phone lines).

Developing countries were able to start with the most modern tech available and hence they “leapfrogged” all of that legacy infrastructure. It also just so happens that cellular infrastructure is significantly easier to build than fixed lines.
So, developing nations have also leapfrogged straight to the smartphone age, and these devices have become their primary means of communication and interaction with the digital world.

Further smartphones are extremely capable devices and cost for entry-level models is often very low. This makes market penetration in even relatively poor developing nations extremely high.

The future of the developing world is mobile.

And so is the future of advertising

If you want to reach people in the rural or urban developing world, mobile it is.

If you want to reach affluent, busy Americans, mobile is your surest shot.

If you want to reach young people, again, mobile is the best vector available.

As you can see, advertising on mobile offers a lot of benefits. And the number of benefits will only increase as the world becomes more mobile in its media consumption.

While mobile offers a whole new way to communicate with consumers and opens up a whole new world of advertising possibilities. But advertisers need to use the correct tools to succeed in this new domain.

Mobinner is that tool. As a performance Demand-Side Platform, Mobinner can help you reach, target, and retarget the consumers that are mostly likely to convert.

Mobinner was built from the ground up with mobile in mind and it’s played a key role in our thinking since the beginning.

If you want to break into the world of mobile advertising you’re going to need the right tools for the job. And Mobinner can provide you with all the key functionalities you need to run successful mobile-targeted campaigns.


The world has been going mobile for quite some time, but, as we have seen, this trend only started picking up in the mid-2000s. But now it has become an almost undeniable reality that mobile is the future.

Even the laptop is threatened by the rise of other, more mobile and more connected form factors like the tablet.

For advertisers, what is essential is that these portable and always on, always connected devices give them unfettered and continuous access to potential customers.

For customers, what is essential is that their favorite games and apps stay free to use. It is advertisers, for the most part, who make this relatively new paradigm of “free to use” software possible.

But perhaps that most important driving factor toward a more mobile future is the extreme preference for mobile phones in developing economies – especially among the youth.

Developing countries are both becoming more prosperous and are expected to be the main drivers of global population growth. The fact that they prefer mobile phones will shape the way that advertisers can reach them.

Quick Recap

The rapid rise and market penetration of smartphones and other mobile devices like tablets have massively changed consumer behavior. With the average American adult spending multiple hours per day on his phone, it has become the perfect advertising vector.

Mobile devices are not only used in every strata of Western society, but they are also becoming extremely common in the developing world. High levels of usage in the rich developed world, as well as in the rapidly growing developing world, make it the ideal way to reach the consumer of today and tomorrow.

Mobinner is a High-Performance Demand Side Platform with a focus on mobile. Let us help you reach a bigger audience and grow your business!

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