Want to see 2012’s mobile future? Look at 2011

What will 2012 bring to our mobile world where tablets are trying to take the place of PCs and we’re carrying small computers in our pockets? We’ve already made more than a dozen mobile predictions for the coming year, but ofttimes, a good predictor of the future is a glimpse at the past. ComScore has done just that with its 2012 Mobile Future in Focus report, published on Thursday.

The free PDF document is available here as a download, and I’ve spent some time gleaning insight from the data points to see how we arrived at today in the mobile space. I recommend the read, but if 49 pages is too much to digest, here are some of the salient themes and informational bits.

  • Smartphone adoption is high in the U.S (42 percent) and EU5 (44 percent), which comprises France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK. This device is driving a rise in mobile media consumption, but it’s not the only factor: 3G/4G networks and a growing number of Wi-Fi hotspots have helped some areas push beyond 50 percent penetration for mobile online activities. That helps explain why we’ll see faster Wi-Fi networks and easier ways to connect to them begin to rollout this year
  • Google Android(s goog) devices leapfrogged sales of Symbian in three of the five EU regions that comScore reported on. This is hardly a surprise, given that Nokia(s nok), which has been the top-selling handset maker for years, abandoned the platform in February of 2011 in favor of Windows Phone(s msft). But it sets the stage in 2012 to watch and see how Nokia-built phones running on Microsoft’s mobile operating system fare in these particular regions.
  • Mobile activities devoted to health were the fastest growing category in 2011, as shown below. The smartphone is well suited for health tracking, but 2012 is likely to see this category expand in hardware options as well. New Bluetooth 4.0 profiles are specifically available for such health tracking, and we’ll see a rise in connected gadgets for this purpose.

  • QR codes and barcodes grew their audience in 2011 as mobile device owners sought real-time product reviews and other information. ComScore notes that last year, 1 in 5 consumers scanned product codes in a store and 1 in 8 compared prices while shopping at a physical retailer.
  • Apple’s(s aapl) iPhone still holds a minority of handset sales, but the company’s “killer app” may be iOS itself. The iPhone, iPad and iPod touch accounted for 60.1 percent of all connected device traffic by the end of 2011. Bringing iOS features into the next version of OS X ought to give Apple continued momentum for both the desktop and mobile markets in 2012.
  • Tablet sales may be small when compared to traditional PCs and smartphones, but in the U.S., 15 percent of mobile users supplemented their phone with a tablet. Considering the consumer tablet market really didn’t start in earnest until April 2010, that’s a relatively quick take-up rate for a companion device. It’s for this reason I recently suggested on GigaOm Pro (subscription required) that the PC you buy in three years may not be a PC after all.
  • Wi-Fi partners well with tablets, accounting for 92.3 percent of tablet connections in the U.S. during the month of December last year. That’s considerably higher than the 40.3 percent of all mobile Internet connections during the same time period. I questioned the inclusion of 3G radios in tablets last March, suggesting that for most people, Wi-Fi would be a far more attractive alternative as consumers don’t want a data plan for every connected device. That trend is likely to continue in 2012, or will be supplemented by mobile broadband radios in tablets with no-contract data plans.

There’s plenty more valuable data in the comScore report, so again, the free download is worth it. Although it’s a look back at mobile from last year, it also provides the clues to figure out what’s going to happen in 2012 and beyond.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Bitterjug.