The Rise of the Surfaces Economy: What It Means for Consumers and Marketers

Isometric mobile development illustration

How ‘Screen Zero’ is Driving the Future of How We Consume Content

By Abhay Singhal, Co-Founder of InMobi Group, CEO of InMobi Advertising Platform

The preeminent market maker, Apple, once again used its phone-in-hand dominance to chart a clear course toward a more efficient and ubiquitous mobile era with the release of iOS 16 – and the message is loud and clear: Lock screen is the new frontier of the mobile experience.

By providing even the simplest customization to lockscreen and always-on mobile intelligence, Apple validates what many other mobile-first companies have been evangelizing for years: Our smartphones are only just beginning to be smart. With the proliferation of 5G and the rapid growth of consumers leveraging smartphones as a primary tool for daily life – the mobile ecosystem is ripe for an explosive revolution and surfaces for iOS and Android are the future of mobile media.

As the rise of surfaces emerges from being under-utilized lockscreen and homescreen mobile real estate relegated to just basic utility apps, this next stage of mobile innovation will empower publishers and developers to provide a new and unprecedented level of customizable, frictionless surfaces experiences for consumers that look like TV but act like mobile.

This eliminates all the noise and clutter of regular screen and mobile browser time and provides a natural extension of the surface experience where news, sports, banking and finance, games, entertainment, and video can be consumed by 6.6 billion smartphone users globally.

The surfaces economy also underscores an industry-wide commitment among mobile-first solution providers and entrepreneurs to adhere to highly transparent, privacy-conscious guidelines on how consumer data is collected and used. This includes Apple’s AppTrackingTransparency (ATT), which now requires app developers to collect opt-ins from users before their IDFA can be accessed, and SKAdNetwork or SKAN, a privacy-focused app attribution system supported by many of today’s top mobile solutions providers – with Google’s Privacy Sandbox to follow suit at some undetermined date.

But the evolution of surfaces didn’t happen overnight.

Steve Jobs’ boxy PCs of the early 1980s evolved into the mainstreaming of desktop computers and gaming consoles. This then led to the long-awaited, long-delayed era of mobile with iOS and Android emerging as the most popular mobile operating systems in the world. Add to that the mass cultural adoption of social media and cloud storage fueled by a thriving mobile app market, and 40+ years have accelerated computer sciences like no other time in history.

We are also, ironically, at an inflection point in that same historical timeline when consumers are overwhelmed by the vast amount of content at their fingertips. With the average person spending 4.8 hours per day on their phone (for Zillennials and GenZ that number is growing quickly) staying informed and entertained has become a daunting, never-ending search-and-sort ordeal.

Today’s consumers are exposed to 12,000 hours of new video content every day, and the discovery journey to watch a YouTube video can take up to eight clicks – from unlocking the phone, scrolling through your apps, firing up the YouTube app, searching the app, scrolling to find the desired video, playing the video, waiting until you can skip the ads, to finally watching the video.

But surfaces obviate wasted time as well as the need to search or download apps. It’s a pre-loaded phone experience that delivers the speedy scroll and endless volume of content we’ve all come to expect from the internet. Users are already checking their phones 58 times per day, and they are not only consuming more live, interactive content on surfaces, they’re also sharing content more frequently.

Why? Because it’s a streamlined, curated, content-led, sharable experience, and there’s no turning back from that.

We’re also seeing the popularity of surfaces in mobile-first markets like APAC and LATAM, with many forward-thinking marketers working with top platforms to leverage lockscreen and folder experiences as prime mobile real estate for unintrusive rich media, interactivity, and video campaigns that connect immediately with consumers when they unlock their phones.

At the same time, OEMs and mobile handset makers are simplifying and customizing the user experience on surfaces in ways that enable scale and increase consumer engagement beyond just monetization.

The next stage of mobile’s evolution is taking us from an eight-click journey to seamless, zero-friction content discovery the moment people pick up their phones. The future of mobile is about bringing content directly to the mobile user, and as far as evolution goes, it’s been a worthwhile journey from the days of clunky desktops to experiencing the world as you want it on surfaces.