Will Sullivan's guide to global mobile, tablet & emerging tech ideas

April 12, 2015
by Will Sullivan
Comments Off

New Pew Research shows growing need for smartphone-focused mobile-first strategies in government

The following is another column I wrote for’s Mobile Trends on Tuesday helping agencies from federal to local municipal navigate technology:

The Pew Research Center released a deep research dive into  “U.S. Smartphone Use in 2015” that provided three big ideas and data points for government agencies to consider when planning their digital strategies.

More than 64 percent of American’s have smartphones; many of those are mobile-first or mobile-only Internet users.

Smartphone DependentThe report detailed that 6 in 10 American’s own a smartphone (64%), 2 in 10 American’s now access the Internet primarily through their mobile phone (25%) and 1 in 10 American’s have no broadband service at home other than their smartphone (10%).

Of the “smartphone-dependent” groups, Pew cites that, “10% of Americans own a smartphone but do not have broadband at home, and 15% own a smartphone but say that they have a limited number of options for going online other than their cell phone. Those with relatively low income and educational attainment levels, younger adults, and non-whites are especially likely to be “smartphone-dependent.”

People are doing a lot more with those phones than just texting and talking.

As we’ve previously discussed on DigitalGov, Pew provided more examples of how smartphones are used for much more than just calling, texting or Internet browsing citing,  “Users are turning to these mobile devices as they navigate a wide range of life events:

  • 62% of smartphone owners have used their phone in the past year to look up information about a health condition.
  • 57% have used their phone to do online banking.
  • 44% have used their phone to look up real estate listings or other information about a place to live.
  • 43% to look up information about a job.
  • 40% to look up government services or information.
  • 30% to take a class or get educational content.
  • 18% to submit a job application.”

(Bold emphasis added to point out government services or information is one of the top tasks listed.)

The report also said that 17% of American smartphone owners have used their phone to report a community problem in their neighborhood (such as a pothole or missing street sign) to the local authorities.

Age & SmartphonesSmartphones are critical tools for spreading local news and community information.

The report also discussed the types of content audiences engaged with on their mobile devices and a high portion used the devices for sharing and learning about community and local news events, including sharing photos and videos. Rates were especially high among survey respondents under the age of 50.

What does this all mean for government agencies?

This research shows that a significant and growing portion of our constituencies need to be able to access our digital content and properties by mobile devices because they have no other easily accessible options. If you’re agency that primarily serves underprivileged, low-income or minority people, these rates are even higher and it is exponentially more crucial to your mission to prepare your digital content to be mobile-optimized as soon as possible, if not first, before the desktop experience.

From breaking news and safety information in a disaster, to reporting community issues, to researching health issues, to looking up government services — smartphones are a critically important tool for government agencies to serve and connect with the people they serve.

April 12, 2015
by Will Sullivan
Comments Off

Big ideas and trends from Mobile World Congress

Will Sullivan at Mobile World Congress

The following is another column I wrote for’s Mobile Trends on Tuesday helping government agencies from federal to local municipal navigate technology:

Mobile World Congress, the world’s largest mobile infrastructure, software, hardware, product and app show, took place in Barcelona, Spain, and I attended for the fifth time. This year’s show shattered previous records with more than 93,000 attendees across all the areas that mobile touches. Here are a few notable trends and topics that I came away with and what government agencies should learn from them:

Phone Sizes

One notable trend (or slowing of an explosive trend) was the size of mobile devices seems to have stabilized—for now. For the past couple of years, phones have been growing bigger and bigger every year at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) and Mobile World Congress (MWC) as “phablets” (hybrid phone and tablet sized devices, larger than 5 inches) have become mainstream.

This year, the sizes seemed to have stabilized with the larger brands like Samsung and HTC keeping their flagship phones in the same size range as last year, after increasing them year over year.

The larger phablet phones like iPhone 6 Plus, Samsung Note 4 and Google Nexus 6 seem to be the limit of what people are willing to personally carry everyday as their phones. Many phablet users tout the utility of having both a phone and a device large enough to enjoyably watch large, high definition video, to read books on and the largely increased battery life—a long standing challenge for mobile devices.

These industrial design trends tend to work in cycles though, so sizes might grow again or they might shrink as people grow tired of the larger device in their pocket. But for now, government agencies can focus on building and testing our digital products for device sizes generally 6 inches and smaller—ideally with responsive structure, so if phones grow or shrink in the future we can still serve a high-quality experience.

The 5G World

While the technical specifications of what “5G” cellular networks actually mean hasn’t been clearly defined by regulators or the industry, many of the big players in the telecom infrastructure and mobile network operator space were touting the “5G” buzzword anywhere they could at the trade show and espousing their vision of what it means and how it will impact and enrich their customers’ lives.

There seems to be a consensus that the future 5G networks will offer exponentially higher speeds (up to 10 GB per second), lower power consumption and energy efficiency, lower latency (the time between digital transactions from cellular towers and devices) and a public deployment timeline of 2020 or later.

It is challenging to begin preparing for a 5G world since the final specifications are still undefined, but we should track this and as the standard becomes clearer, our agencies should start envisioning what experiences (and audience expectations) will look like and begin planning for this digital future.

For instance, when 5G networks become a reality, streaming video at ultra high definition quality (like the new 4K standard) could become a reality and the infrastructure and technology to manage that would be substantial.

For more about some of the specifications being proposed from industry groups, check out the Next Generation Mobile Networks alliance 5G Whitepaper or the European Union’s 5G Public Private Partnership proposal.

The Internet of Things

Internet Of Things ToothbrushAnother buzzword that was flooding the trade show floor was “The Internet of Things” or “The Internet of Everything” with all sorts of products—from cars to home energy controls to toothbrushes—becoming WiFi, Bluetooth and NFC equipped to add functionality, sensors and Internet communication protocols that share and track information.

The most impressive demo I saw was from Oral B, that was introducing a Bluetooth enabled toothbrush that tracked the sensitivity, time and location of your brushing and offered feedback, customized brushing plans and data tracking over time, as well as weather and news information on your phone while it timed your brushing time. I don’t know if everyone would feel completely comfortable with taking this approach to every aspect of their life being tracked, ranked and connected, but The Internet of Things is coming, and government agencies are going to have to prepare for regulatory, bandwidth and security challenges and opportunities—especially in the health and public utility areas.


Somewhat related to the Internet of Things, mobile “wearables” exploded this year at Mobile World Congress—almost every company was launching some sort of smart watch—and then the wearable buzz surged again this week with Apple (who does not show at MWC) officially announcing the details of their Apple Watch.

Virtual Reality experiences also were popular throughout the trade show to share new digital content and experiences.

For government organizations, this trend is notable: consider how you can personalize and break down your information, news and utilities for smaller and smaller ‘glance’ experiences or virtual experiences to enhance audience lives.

Final Thoughts

With all these developments, there are still a lot of questions around what kind of industry/universal development standards will evolve for cross-device information sharing, security and privacy and how that will affect the growth, adoption and integration into our lives and work. Government agencies would be smart to keep on top of these technologies and figure out how they can be used to enhance what we do, especially to get in front of the potential challenges that will surely confront us.

March 11, 2015
by Will Sullivan
Comments Off

Audiences are moving to complete more time-consuming, complex tasks mobile devices

As an expert in global and mobile trends working in the government and media space, I’ve been tapped to start writing for Mobile Trends on Tuesday for, a GSA website, webinar series, email list and more sharing best practices, training and resources for technologists across the government space (from federal agencies down to local municipalities). I’m really looking forward to getting back into writing and examining new areas of mobile. Sometimes I can get so focused on the really unique and difficult challenges our BBG audiences face that it is great to take a step back and focus on other audiences, organizational challenges and trends to see a bigger picture and other ways to approach the mobile experience.

Here’s the meat of my first post about a mobile app usage trend comparing data from Flurry (a mobile app analytics company now owned by Yahoo):

Overall, mobile app usage grew 76% in 2014, and the top app categories included: “Lifestyle & Shopping,” growing 174%; “Utilities & Productivity,” growing 121%; “Messaging & Social,” growing 89%; and “Health & Fitness” and “Travel” categories, both growing 89% year over year.

Compared to last year’s report, “Messaging & Social” and “Utilities & Productivity” still reigned in the top two verticals. What’s interesting is that the 2014 app categories that grew faster tended to be those with more complex tasks, rather than those with more simple tasks like gaming and consuming passive music and news media.

Flurry App Mobile Growth

One could draw the conclusion that this shows a maturation of mobile users and app experiences in the market; people aren’t just using apps for games and simple tasks anymore. They’re managing more of their life and more complex and sensitive tasks, such as buying things, booking and planning vacations, and managing their personal health information through mobile applications. They’re becoming more ‘mobile first,’ to use an industry buzzword that describes the inclination to use mobile devices as the first experience with digital content, rather than desktops.

Check out more of the post and other DigitalGov material.

Up next, I’ll have a recap of last week’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, which I just returned from my 5th visit (and where two of our apps — Radio Sawa and the VOA News apps were finalists for the “Best Mobile Music App” and “Best Mobile Media & Publishing App” — were finalists for the GSMA Global Mobile Awards).