Mobile trends for 2020: apps, advertising, and AI

By Shelley Seale


Austin, Texas, United States


Mobile Marketing Magazine has been covering the global mobile marketing industry since 2005 and constantly looks at what the industry can expect to see in terms of future mobile marketing tech and innovation.

In an exclusive Webinar on Wednesday, Editorial Director David Murphy shared the magazine’s respected view of the mobile world to INMA members, delving into his look at trends for the year ahead in mobile.

“It’s difficult and dangerous to predict the future,” Murphy opened — adding that while not predicting the future, certain trends are apparent for mobile in the next year. He proceeded to lead attending INMA members through different facets of mobile, one by one.

David Murphy presented a Webinar on Mobile Trends for 2020 to INMA members.
David Murphy presented a Webinar on Mobile Trends for 2020 to INMA members.


Some people are wondering if apps have had their day, Murphy said, posing the question if we even need them anymore. But the numbers prove out consumers are still using them in the millions.

  • The Apple App Store has 2.2 million apps available for download.
  • There are 2.8 million apps available for download on the Google Play Store.

With more than 2.7 billion smartphone users across the world, it’s no surprise that the mobile app industry is thriving.

“It doesn’t look like there’s any lack of enthusiasm for apps,” Murphy said. They are still good for advertising, as well as in-app purchases. Global spend is up to US$105 billion this year and expected to generate US$189 billion in revenue by 2020.

He further shared these statistics:

  • Seven out of every 10 digital minutes is spent on mobile.
  • Nine out of every 10 mobile minutes are spent in an app.
This graph shows the time spent in apps of different categories for mobile.
This graph shows the time spent in apps of different categories for mobile.

“Apps are a good place to be and a good way to reach out to consumers of all ages,” Murphy said, adding he believes the industry will continue to see this trend, especially as people look to games for more in-app advertising and purchases in 2020.

Mobile can even be considered an “app within an app,” he added. Consumers are selective about which apps they use and stay loyal to. There’s a real art to that in terms of advertising and app optimisation — keywords, imagery, how your app ranks, and how your reviews are presented.

“If you get your app downloaded, the next step is to make it so useful that the consumer will continue to use it. The percentage of users that stick with an app after 30 days is very low, in the single digits.”

The magazine has also seen the rise of the “super app” — one that can be used for many different uses (for example, WeChat, which is for messaging as well as paying bills, etc).


Digital will take more than half of all global ad spend for the first time this year, Murphy revealed. Not surprising, search is the biggest sector overall. Total digital ad spend is now US$306 billion — and US$210 billion of that is on mobile.

A look at global digital ad spend from 2018 to 2020.
A look at global digital ad spend from 2018 to 2020.

“Mobile will drive 80% of digital ad growth in 2020, according to Forrester,” Murphy said.


This is a similar situation to advertising, and programmatic has seen growth, although it’s small growth.

Murphy outlined several key issues with programmatic advertising:

  • Ad fraud.
  • Transparency.
  • Brand safety.
  • Privacy.

“Many times ads are not seen by humans but by bots, so the company doing the advertising doesn’t get the benefit of real people clicking through and taking action,” he said. This problem is coupled by the fact that there was US$5 billion in ad fraud in 2018.

“One of the virtues of programmatic in its purest form is that you don’t buy a specific space on a platform, you buy audience, wherever they are. The issue, however, is that your ads might appear on places you’d rather they didn’t appear.” For example, this might be on low budget sites, pornographic content, hate speech, etc.

Even when ads appear in what should be a safe environment, such as YouTube, the problem is they can still sometimes display alongside videos promoting extremist news or hate content. In 2017 that became a big wake-up call, Murphy said: “As recently as September 2019, BBC found ads on YouTube of the same, so it’s an issue that hasn’t gone away. The industry hasn’t really sorted out that issue yet.”

The real push-and-pull with the privacy is between users’ desire to protect their privacy and brands’ desire to use their data. “Laws have been put into place, but we’re still trying to work through that,” Murphy said.

He added that looking at the figure of US$306 billion ad spend, one might think there’s plenty to go around — but in fact the vast majority of that (at least 55% in the United States) goes to Google and Facebook. “I’ve seen figures as high as 70% for global.”

But there is finally a new kid on the block challenging Google and Facebook: Amazon. Though this isn’t making life any easier for other platforms. “It’s still a long way behind Google and Facebook, but it’s catching up. Amazon is the second biggest search engine in the world after Google.”

Facebook vs Google when it comes to digital ad spend.
Facebook vs Google when it comes to digital ad spend.

One final note Murphy made on the topic of advertising was concerning the continued growth of podcasts. “It might be the next billion-dollar market.”


“You can’t talk about social without talking about Facebook,” Murphy said. When you look at the numbers, the company does seem to be continuing to do very well; it had 2.45 billion monthly active users as of second quarter 2019.

“But Facebook is not the only game in town,” he added. “Instagram has also had a good year, particularly with Stories. Retailers can use them like shop windows.”

Instagram Stories and shopping in the app are both growing in popularity.
Instagram Stories and shopping in the app are both growing in popularity.

Some experts feel this feature will become even more important for marketers. Instagram shopping has also grown greatly. 2020 could be the year that social commerce takes off, as more and more customers make purchases directly from a social platform.

There are newcomers in social media as well, like TikTok. “It’s come all the way from China and made a massive splash in 2019, and has become almost addictive for its users. The TikTok app has 1.5 billion downloads to date.”


Zoella is a prime example of a brand that grew a huge following early on to usher in the age of the Influencer. The regulators have been trying to keep up with this in terms of guideline violations, disclosure, etc.

“Some people think this industry is a little dirty, earning money for endorsing products and not being totally transparent,” Murphy said. “But the use of the hashtag #ad has more than doubled.”

Some experts think by next year it’ll be a US$10 billion business, but media conglomerates are really having a problem with influencer marketing.

“Brands that don’t embrace this type of marketing might be left behind.” There are now companies, like Tribe out of Australia, that connect brands directly with individual Influencers. Note the transition of the word “influencer” to “creator” by Tribe, Murphy pointed out.

  • Micro-influencers make up 89% of the influencers on Instagram.
  • Female influencers contribute 84% of all sponsored posts on Instagram.

New Tech

Augmented Reality (AR), Mixed Reality (MR), and Virtual Reality (VR) all fall into this category.

Augmented Reality is one of the new technologies starting to make a splash when it comes to marketers.
Augmented Reality is one of the new technologies starting to make a splash when it comes to marketers.

“When it comes to the three of them in terms of brand activity, I see nothing with MR, because you still need a headset but it’s not nearly as exciting [as VR],” Murphy said. He shared the VR experience that Lockheed created, “Field Trip to Mars,” as an example of exciting new technology in the field.

While there is definitely activity with VR, Murphy thinks that in general, it hasn’t really taken off in the real world. “So there isn’t really a scale yet for brands to really get involved in it.”

When it comes to AR, there is a little more. Dominos, IKEA, and 7-Eleven stores are all taking advantage of AR to let their customers interact with their products virtually.

“I think brands will continue to invest in AR in 2020,” Murphy said.

When it comes to Artificial Intelligence (machine learning), he said if consumers are engaging with it, they shouldn’t be able to tell that it’s a chatbot or AI. Experts say in 2020, AI will hit the mainstream, though some say that as much as 80% of AI interactions would not pass an authenticity test.


INMA: In regards to app downloads and usage, do you have any tips for download campaigns and strategy?

Murphy: I think it’s about getting lots of small things right. There are multiple things you can do, from optimising your campaign to get people to download it, and then what does your app look like once the customer is using it. Even what colour your colour scheme will be makes a difference, particularly amongst different countries. You can also set a spending budget with Apple so that your app will be near the top of a search list. There’s no magic bullet; it’s just making the experience as good as it can be. In terms of loyalty, I really think it comes down to making your app as useful as it can be, or funny. Some form of value.

INMA: Do you think TikTok will get as big as Instagram?

Murphy: When you see something arrive in the way that it did — explode onto the scene and become so popular so quickly, and that plays so well with mobile and its “snacking culture” — you have to pay attention.

INMA: What about 5G? Will we need a new handset?

Murphy: Yes we will. Our focus is what happens on the handset, really. I think with all these things, it’s always wise to listen to the independent view and see what they think.

About Shelley Seale

By continuing to browse or by clicking “ACCEPT,” you agree to the storing of cookies on your device to enhance your site experience. To learn more about how we use cookies, please see our privacy policy.