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Mobile Is Eating Global Attention: 10 Graphs on the State of the Internet

U.S. military soldiers using their smartphones take pictures of President Barack Obama.

U.S. military soldiers using their smartphones take pictures of President Barack Obama. // Lee Jin-man/AP

Mary Meeker's State of the Internet presentation is a primordial soup for fledgling think pieces about the Future of Digital, and I mean that in a good way, actually. It's a 164-page slideshow of graphs and big-think proclamations about where our attention—and money chasing our attention—is going.

Here are my favorite charts, with some commentary. 

The mother of all attention charts

This is your at-a-glance picture of how America spends her time consuming media, and how ad dollars are divided across the major categories of print, radio, TV, Internet, and mobile. Feast your eyes...

Here are three conclusions you could draw from this graph:

1. TV Still Rules. Compare this attention chart with its 2011 version below and you see something strange: TV's share of our attention has slightly declined, while its share of the American ad market has slightly increased. It's the only category that shares that dubious, dual distinction. Essentially: Advertisers like moving pictures on big screens even more than we do.

2. Print Is Simply Screwed. Over time, you could argue, ad dollars and attention tend to align, because companies simply want to be where the ears and eyeballs are. If that's true, print's structural decline is nowhere near over. Its share of attention fell six percentage points in the last two years, and there's still a cavernous gap between reading time and ad sales.

Not all attention is created equal, a good print publisher will tell you, and she's right. If the typical American looks at his phone 150 times a day for 15 seconds, that's about 40 minutes spent on a mobile device. But what's more valuable: 40 minutes divided into infinitesimally tiny slivers on a three-inch screen, or 40 minutes reading an Atlantic cover story in a beautiful print layout? (The latter,obviously.) But print advertising as a category buys a tiny amount of our attention at a high price. Leading us to the final conclusion...

3. Mobile Is Devouring Attention, but Not Ads (Yet) 

Eyes move faster than ads. It was true for TV: In 1941, when the first television ads appeared with local baseball games, radio and print dominated the media advertising market. Now it's true for mobile, which is practically a glass appendage attached to working Americans and commands more attention than radio and print combined, even though it only commands 1/20th of US ad spending. Google and Facebook own the future of mobile advertising, for now. But the present of mobile monetization isn't ads. It's apps...

Mobile is an app business

The second chart that really struck me from the Meeker report shows the growth of the mobile biz since 2008, which has exploded from $2 billion to $38 billion. I never would have guessed that two-thirds of the mobile business comes from paid apps rather than advertising. It's an interesting reversal from the desktop ecosystem, where just about every Internet property I use is free and supported with third-party advertising. When you combine this graph (basically: Mobile is an app industry, with a side of ads) and the previous graph (basically: The future of attention is mobile), you begin to see just how important it is for media companies to promote high-quality apps for their stuff. 

Asia and Africa are the future

If you think mobile is big in America, consider that its share of Internet usage istwo times higher in Asia and Africa. There are a lot of countries that simply skipped the laptop generation and went straight to Internet-connected phones. This is one reason why some African countries are much further ahead of the U.S. in mobile payments.

Google and Apple are the future

It's a familiar story, but a powerful one. Eight years ago, Google and Apple didn't have a phone business. Now they make the operating system that powers just about every single phone shipped around the world.

This raises a larger point about Google. Android OS powers about 75 percent of new units shipped. Google's mobile ads account for about half the global market, which is doubling next year. Google powers the world's phones and dominates the market of selling attention within those phones.

Photos are the future

If you're wondering why Facebook spent bajillion dollars on WhatsApp and Instagram (and offered more bajillions to Snapchat), just look at this graph for a split-second. The Internet as you know is essentially a series of tubes optimized for facilitating the distribution of photos. Although Facebook's share of that photo market isn't growing, WhatsApp and Snapchat have exploded. This feeds into a larger point that Meeker makes in the presentation, which is that the mobile Internet has been a boon for discrete, simple functions. WhatsApp is simple. Snapchat is simple. Timelines are simple. Simple actions and interfaces are thriving on mobile, more than services like Facebook which offer a more complex suite of functions.

Here's another chart showing how mobile accelerated unique visitors at visual sites like Instagram and Pinterest. Three-inch screens are crap for reading, crap for typing, and crap for executing Excel macros. But they're divine for staring at a cascade of easy, pretty photos.

Television is the new fireplace

We don't just sit and stare: 84 percent of us are doing something on our phones and tablets with the TV on.

Television only means "live" if you're older than 30

Millennials (adults under 32) watch 59 percent of their television delayed, on-demand, or online. Everybody else watches 59 percent of their television live.

Americans love-love-love our screens

Americans spent more time in front of the TV than just about any country in the world, except for the UK, and more time in front of all our screens than almost any developed country in the world. Fascinatingly, the countries with the most reported screen time are emerging economies like Indonesia, Brazil, and China, while the U.S. leads all advanced economies in screen time. Of note in this graph:

- British people watch the most TV.
- The Chinese, Vietnamese, and Russians spend the most time on desktop computers.
- Nigeria is the most addicted to their smartphones.
- Nobody loves tablets more than the Philippines and Indonesia.

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// October 20
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