Good news! Our lives are so dull that space on mobile home screens is now worth $1 billion a square inch

By James Robinson , written on March 27, 2014

From The News Desk

The mundane, cloying reality of today's always-connected culture is that our addiction to checking our phones now makes (other) people a lot of money. Last year, Bessemer Venture Partners published a report that priced out the value of a spot on the mobile home screen at $1 billion per square inch. It’s hard to find a company that has firmed up a place here that isn’t worth at least $1 billion now.

While the rush to justify Facebook’s Oculus Rift purchase had everyone instantaneously obsessing about the post-mobile future yesterday, at ad:tech 2014 in San Francisco the attention was still on adjusting to and improving the current mobile one. But as Phoenix Marketing International’s John Schiela and Mobile Posse’s Gregory Wester quantified in one afternoon session – presenting the results of research they’d conducted in partnership with Recon Analytics – big dollars on mobile are made possible by the drabbest of compulsions.

The average person looks at their phone 100 times a day, their research found. Throwing in a baseline eight hours of sleep, that’s about six times an hour, more than once every 10 minutes. Entire markets exist in the space between the amount of people who look at their phone to do something specific and the people who look at their phone just to look at it: 23 percent of people have a specific task in mind, but almost double that (42 percent) just want to be distracted.

As Schiela and Wester contend, with phones so smart and this virtual real estate so valuable, the home screen will become naturally less dumb in time. Android’s open source framework already allows companies to offer home screen takeovers, while on iOS the most customizable facet is the wallpaper. The two firms talked up the possibility of the home screen becoming more dynamic and intelligent. For example, Yahoo recently paid $80 million for Aviate, which offers such capabilities. If you control the home screen, you control the dollars. It’s a new frontier.

But reading between the lines of this research, the opportunity more realistically centers on understanding the tic behind society’s collective boredom and propensity to reach for the phone as a result. One out of three people will pick their phone up when they get a notification, no matter what, research shows. A little under half of us don’t want to be disturbed, but the rest are open season for push notifications.

Predictions about the future value of virtual reality aside, the mobile revolution is still happening. It has arguably opened up a new dimension of commerce and information in our life. Yet people are still figuring out the opportunities within this new realm. Unfortunately, all this innovation feels a lot less noble when you realize that much of it is driven by the need to fill time as each blankly stare at our phones.

[Illustration by Brad Jonas for Pando]