Ending the Myth of Asian Mobile Usage Patterns Coming to US

For several years I went to mobile marketing or technology conferences to hear speakers say something like the following: "X is happening in Asia or Europe, so it's only a matter of time before it happens in the US." Perhaps we can stop saying that now.

Asia, Europe and the US are distinct markets, influenced by their own cultures, PC and Internet infrastructures, carrier policies and technology adoption trends. Asia and Japan in particular were early adopters of mobile platforms and the mobile Internet, partly because of a less-developed and more challenging PC Internet infrastructure. Europe developed a culture of text messaging partly because it was more expensive to make calls.

However with the exception of Symbian/MeeGo, all the most advanced mobile operating systems are coming out of North America and mostly the US. This hardly makes the North America the mobile laggard that many have traditionally said it was/is.

Equally I do not see every geography racing toward some inevitable common mobile adoption paradigm: "As markets mature they will also look like X,Y, Z." I read new comScore mobile data comparing Japan, Europe and North America as confirming the distinctiveness of the regions rather than reflecting who's "ahead" or "behind" in specific mobile categories -- all racing toward a common outcome. However comScore does present its data through the lens of this ahead/behind scenario.

 Source: comScore  The circled items in the chart are my addition to the original comScore data. While some patterns in Japan or Europe are bound to come to the US market (and vice versa) that's not guaranteed. 

For example, more than 50% in the US and Europe will likely become "connected" in the near term. However, text messaging in Japan may never reach European or US levels. And while TV watching in Japan is quite heavy by comparison, US and EU levels may never get to the same place.

Some patterns and adoption rates may turn out to be comparable over time across markets.

My point is that each market is distinct and may maintain distinctive features. The Morgan Stanley position -- because it happened in Japan it will happen here --  I believe is incorrect accordingly. Some things that happened in Japan will happen in the West, but not everything. 

At CTIA last week Millennial Media remarked that after 10 years of the mobile Internet in Japan 90% of ad revenues were in display and not search. That's a valuable and interesting data point. But it doesn't necessarily predict how the US mobile ad market will evolve. (Though I do agree display will play a significant role in mobile.) 

The larger point is that we need a more nuanced view of international markets and cannot simply make the assumption that Japan and Europe are "more advanced" across the board or assume that trends will play out in similar ways in "less mature" markets.