Is mobile in decline?

Mobile web traffic almost doubled in 2012, but that growth slowed dramatically in 2013 and mobile has even lost market share in February.

Are we seeing the beginning of the end of mobile growth on the web or is this just a short hiccup in the inevitable rise of mobile browsing?


By the numbers

Mobile users have surpassed desktop users on Facebook, but of course Facebook is a fairly unique website. However, according to StatsCounter, 8.75% of all visitors to the 3 million websites in their network were using a mobile device. This number grew to an all-time high of almost 14% by the end of 2012.

That’s still only 14%, and while global smartphone purchases are still on the rise, Strategy Analytics have reported that there were actually less smartphones sold in the US in 2012 than in 2011.

Mobile Web Traffic

Source: StatsCounter

There have been other down months for mobile. Mobile lost website traffic to desktops in both March and April of 2012, but it’s been on a tear since then and we’re at the end of the longest period of sustained market share gain ever for Mobile. In fact, mobile web traffic grew much faster in 2010 than 2011 and 2012 combined.

Mobile traffic growth

Source: StatsCounter

Meanwhile, consumers are also less excited about mobile websites. According to Google Trends the number of searches for “Mobile Website” continues to grow, but the pace of growth is clearly slowing down.

This falloff can be partially explained by the fact that mobile websites have become the norm these days. Almost all of our clients ask for mobile (and/or responsive) sites. Still, the overall trend is that Mobile is no longer the “hot new thing”.

Mobile searches

Source: Google Trends


2012 and the rise of responsive

While 2012 might not have been the year of mobile, it was certainly the year that web designers sat up and took notice. Back in the early days of 2011 we found ourselves explaining to clients the importance of a mobile, but by the middle of 2012 most clients were asking us for mobile websites. Some even specifically asked for responsive websites by name, which is amazing considering this is a term that wasn’t even in our collective vocabulary until 2012.

Rise of responsive

Source: Google Trends

Is this just a hiccup in Mobile’s inevitable rise or is it time to permanently retire Mobile-First design? Will you still push responsive design as heavily for your clients or will you wait to see what these numbers do?

For my part I’m still looking at log files before I recommend anything to clients. Some of our clients see less than 2% of their traffic on mobile while others are seeing over 75%, so we’re still deciding how much time and money to invest in mobile on a case-by-case basis.

Only time will tell if January’s plummet was a statistical aberration or an indication of a wider volatility in the mobile landscape. At the time of writing the partial figures for February look like February will reverse the downward trend of 2013 and send us back into positive growth territory, but how fast that growth will be is still anyone’s guess.

Is mobile in decline? Is responsive design replacing mobile, or merely supplementing it? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

Featured image/thumbnail, broken cell phone image via Shutterstock.

  • Sara

    Most mobile devices don’t need to use the “mobile” version of websites anymore, honestly… If that’s what you meant by mobile traffic, anyway. The browser I use on my phone can even handle HTML 5

  • Tom Lynch

    I’d say it depends on your definition of mobile browsing really. Whenever I design a site, I always ensure that they’re responsive to some extent, however I very rarely create a dedicated mobile version of a site on a separate sub domain for example

    I’m writing this comment on an iPad as we speak, mainly as my smartphone and Playbook are both on charge. I spend a lot of time selling phones and tablets for a large telecommunications company and the majority of my customers these days want phones that can fully browse the web

    So in summary I’d say that mobile browsing is definitely changing, but not on the decline

  • shivabeach

    I rarely use my smart phone For any type of browsing.I have a galaxy nexus and it has a large screen, but I get no joy from trying to read websites on it. I occasionally use one of my tablets for browsing, but primarily just to check my own sites. I try to make everything responsive but I seldom make use of that myself.

  • bgbs

    Mobile web browsing is VERY HARD even on a responsive site! I mean, the small screen, lack of proper input interface, coupled with slow loading pages, makes web browsing impractical for serious business. Interacting with a website by leaving a simple comment is a distater of its own that we don’t need to discuss.

    You can do Mickey Mouse nonsense type of web browsing such as youtubing on your phone, but when it comes to serious business you need a computer with a real keyboard/mouse, and a broadband.

  • Kenth Hagström

    I think there are too many sites that’s NOT very mobile friendly at all out there, this is what’s causing this IMHO. I know about a lot of BIG companies (in Sweden) who have horrible websites when browsed from a mobile device. It’s not even worth the time trying to access their sites on a mobile device.

  • Maxim St-Hilaire

    From my point of view, by mobile you most likely make reference to smartphones and iPad. However, I am one of those who thinks that these tools were major medium for something I would call the constant connection. When I hear mobile, this is what I see… A world where it is quite possible, and easier, to have access to multiple data on the fly. Who knows, maybe a few years from now we will be able to do our grocery while waiting in the metro with ease.

    For this reason, I don’t think that “mobile” will suffer from a downfall any soon. While the VHS is mostly gone, the concept of watching movies is not dead at all.

    Let’s not forget either that it is normal to reach a peak somewhere, not everybody is a fan of buying a new device each year.

    One of the biggest weakness of mobile surfing at the moment is that most sites are not suited for this at all. Zooming to click on small links, clicking on the wrong link because it is too small… Are annoying events which slow down the concept. Instead of saying that mobile is in decline, I would probably say that we are not fully functional with mobile development.