Mary Meeker: Mobile devices equal big data devices

Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers report sees mobile devices at the center of a slew of personalized data-harvesting trends

Mary Meeker, of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, has delivered the latest edition of her annual "Internet Trends" report, a series she has churned out since 2001. The touchstones for this year's report all involve familiar terms -- mobile devices, big data, cheaper processing power -- but one finding revolves around the way connected and instrumented mobile devices create data from user behaviors, as opposed to just providing data for user consumption.

First, the basics: Overall, Internet usage continues to grow -- 2.6 billion users as of the end of 2013 -- but its growth rate has started to flatten, and much of the growth is in markets that Meeker describes as "more difficult to monetize," such as India, Indonesia, and Nigeria. Most of that Internet usage is shifting to mobile devices, with the lion's share of engagement taking place on smartphones rather than tablets despite the latter's booming sales. Even there, it's starting to level off: Smartphone subscriber growth is flattening, with the majority of growth taking place in what Meeker calls "underpenetrated markets" like China and Brazil.

But Meeker notes how mobile devices are not being used as mere consumption devices. "People enabled with mobile devices and sensors [are] uploading troves of findable and shareable data," says the report. Meeker also sees this as part of the way our newly found big data-gathering abilities (thanks to cloud computing being cheaper than ever) are being refashioned more as big problem-solving methodologies. The push is toward figuring out what specific problems to solve with all these harvesting tools and the data they gather.

As promising as such a view is, it's also an experimental one, with the applications, user behaviors, the harvested data, and the potential problems to be solved all in flux. In messaging, for example, all-in-one apps like Facebook are being replaced with more utility-specific applications like Snapchat, a process Meeker describes as "unbundling." Meeker also notes the rise of what she calls "invisible apps," such as Foursquare Swarm or Dark Sky, that gather data passively in the background based on a user's behaviors, both online and in the real world, and notify the user only when needed.

Elsewhere in the report, Meeker examines how education and health care are being reshaped by technology. Both have become costly affairs; the former is doing a poorer job of preparing people for the realities of the modern job market, and most of the cost of the latter stems from management of chronic conditions due to behaviors that engender health risks (bad diet, lack of exercise).

In both cases, Meeker sees connected technology as a reformative influence. Education is being reshaped via cheaper online courses, and the "consumerization of health care" allows patients to not only more closely manage their own conditions, but give more detailed feedback about the quality of their care providers. There's still room for skepticism, given the newness of those fields, and Meeker seems to implicitly understand that, as she characterizes her findings as "green shoots data."

This story, "Mary Meeker: Mobile devices equal big data devices," was originally published at Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow on Twitter.

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