As we close on what has been a most eventful year, it’s time to get out the crystal ball again. Companies across the mobile app ecosystem have begun to rebound nicely after a particularly challenging Q2 and Q3  (to put it mildly).  Many experts and insiders are now feeling optimistic about the long term prospects for the space. Heading into 2021, mobile continues to manage well through COVID-19. We've also seen a V-shaped recovery in ad spend with the worst impact in Q2.  So, what’s in store for the mobile app market in 2021? 

The Post Covid Acceleration

Across the mobile landscape, Covid-19 has acted less as a radical change agent and more as an accelerant.  As the pandemic (hopefully) winds down in 2021, expect to see further acceleration. New technologies and markets will continue cropping up to exploit those new opportunities created by the pandemic.  Just as the Work From Home (WFH) response to COVID created new markets for companies in health services, remote collaboration and education we’ll continue to see new markets opening up based upon the rise of  technology driven answers to the pandemic.  Reimagining value chains around shifting B2C consumer expectations, remote fintech platforms enhancing and enabling banks and financial institutions, and managing the boom in eCommerce all represent new technology driven markets that could and should take on significance in a post-COVID world.   We’ll also see a deepening and expansion of those early “COVID winners” as habits altered by  COVID become more ingrained.   

The IDFA Hangover

What loomed as a transformational year for the mobile advertising industry -  particularly with Apple’s IDFA announcement in June  - got sidetracked as the  pandemic changed media habits and Apple put its privacy changes on hold.  Those transformations, though, should be front and center as we roll into the new year.  Privacy regulation and technology changes (Chrome cookies and IDFA deprecation) that are transforming the way identity works should be a dominant feature of the 2021 mobile advertising landscape.  Yet, given the extra time most companies received with which to deal with the new IDFA changes coupled with the sudden fluidity of the mobile ecosystem suggests that it’s likely privacy regulation - in whatever form it ultimately takes -  won’t negatively impact the market quite as much as previously feared.  Innovation is already driving the next wave of  attribution. Identity technologies and the need for these technologies has, perhaps, never been  greater.   The latest investment by Salesforce into Appsflyer offers a vision forward around the future of mobile advertising and tracking.  Expect innovative alternatives to come to market and continue apace as brands and platforms navigate this revamped and growing mobile ecosystem.

The Big Shift

While the jury is still out as to whether pandemic-driven media habits will become permanent, expect to still see a dramatic shift in advertising spend from digital to mobile in 2021.  The writing is on the wall for brands and advertisers. The average time spent on mobile is 4hr 20 min a day, or, 25% of waking hours (according to App Annie). The agility that mobile advertising offers has been made more apparent during the pandemic.  While we can’t completely rule out a return to a pre-pandemic “normal” in terms of consumer media habits, in all likelihood the genie is out of the bottle for mobile and advertising budgets will follow the eyeballs, accordingly. 

Mobile & AI 

The increased application of machine intelligence has become ubiquitous across seemingly every business sector. That’s certainly the case for mobile.  It’s likely that Predictive Intelligence and AI will play an even larger role in mobile marketing in 2021. The pandemic created new behavioral patterns in less than 8 months which in turn forced the hand of AdTech companies to address the challenges brought on by the pandemic.  AI played a key role in answering those challenges whether it was around anticipating consumer buying behavior in e-commerce, chat-bots for brand-consumer engagement, or messaging in ads for engagement.  Expect Predictive Intelligence and AI to play an even larger role as they continue to transform the space. 

Looking ahead to 2021, these 4 areas are where app marketers at top tech-forward mobile businesses will be focusing out of the gate.  They’re also why there exists such a great deal of optimism around the next wave of mobile marketing and advertising tech solutions.  These four  areas represent only the tip of the iceberg for the mobile app ecosystem in 2021.