Remember MTV’s first video? “Video Killed the Radio Star,” announced the relegation of one technology (radio) by another (video). We’ve seen this play out and we now realize that MTV was onto something.

Fast forward to the mid-1990s when it was evident that the World Wide Web was going to be a land grab of commerce. The message wasn’t as explicit as with MTV’s proclamation, but we definitely knew change was coming. Businesses scrambled to create their own websites. New business models such as Amazon, Google and Netflix were created to leverage this new platform, and exist to this day as predominately web-only businesses.

Enter mobile.

We are living in a time that Steve Jobs coined as the "post-PC" era, when personal computer use as a primary form of technology is declining in favor of smartphones and tablets. Like radio stars, mobile-only business models will replace web sites as the dominant platform for electronic business. Without a definite indicator of change like the rock star video, we need to look at various signs to see if they point us in the same direction.

First, let’s review the state of the mobile industry.

Mobile usage has increased dramatically since the introduction of smartphones and even more so since the launch of the iPhone in 2007. Announced by Apple when they launched the iPad 3, beginning as early as the forth quarter of 2011, Apple sold more iPads alone than PCs sold by any single personal computer manufacturer sold worldwide.

As of 2011 Q4

Now, with an all-out war raging between Android and Apple, the capabilities of smartphones have increased while price points have decreased.

According to Wikipedia, cellular devices (ex: phone, mobile hotspot) have a 103 percent penetration rate in the United States. Per Nielson, a consumer research company, smartphones now account for 64 percent of all cell phones in the US. That means that a clear majority of the US population, 66 percent to be exact, is now clutching their smartphone wherever they go everyday.

With the majority of Americans already using smartphones, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that many businesses, both small and large, are being built as mobile-only. Here are a few examples:

Snapchat and Instagram

Both Snapchat and Instagram are photo-sharing applications that owe their success to mobile-only business plans. Available only on iOS and Android, these applications allow users to easily take and share pictures instantly. The immediacy that their mobile-only apps provide is a big factor why their users love them. Snapchat recently turned down a $3 billion buyout offer from Facebook, the same company that bought Instagram in April 2012 for $1 billion. Instagram did introduce a basic website to display photos and comments 10 months after the acquisition, but their meteoric rise occurred during their mobile-only days.

(Update: Since submitting this article for publication, Google attempted to buy SnapChat for $4 billion. Like Facebook's buyout offer, Google's was also rejected.)

Uber

Uber is a mobile-only business that connects consumers with luxury cars for hire. Like Snapchat, Uber has a website that is used mainly for marketing purposes although it also allows new members to sign up for their service. However, their actual service is provided exclusively through their iOS app, Android app, and their mobile-only website. A recently leaked financial report projects their revenue at over $1 billion per year and growing.

MailBox

MailBox allows mobile users to quickly process their email and empty their inbox. Purchased by Dropbox in March 2013 for an undisclosed amount, they work with existing mail providers and extend traditional email by allowing you to defer taking action on an email until later while moving it out of sight until an appointed time in the future. Currently available only on iPhone and iPad, however an Android version of their mobile app is in the works. Like the other example, MailBox’s website is for information purposes only.

All this talk of mobile may have you panicking. No need to panic, yet. The Internet isn’t going anywhere anytime soon and web sites will remain relevant for years to come. But a significant shift is already underway.

Mobile is booming and all factors indicate that this will continue into the future, further dismissing the relevance of standard web sites. This isn’t something that will happen in the distant future, it’s happening now.

What does this all mean to me?

As a business owner or executive, what does this mean for you?

For starters, don’t ignore mobile. If you don’t already have a mobile solution then consider how you can integrate mobile into your offering. Consider features that would make sense for mobile-only users (ex: geo-location to direct customers to your nearest location or to conduct routine transactions).

The reality is that if you’re not already mobile then you’re missing out on the first wave of this seismic shift from web to mobile.


Also published in Inside Business on Dec 20, 2013.