Software as a Service June 29, 2020

My prediction: mobile-only is the next SaaS Gold Rush 💰🤓

Chris @blunicorn
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    I have to disagree. I already spend my days building products that are used by a LOT of people and generate a ton of revenue. Sadly it’s my day job and the products aren’t mine.

    However... for years now we’ve been “mobile first”.

    That means all we think about during the design and build phase is mobile. When we demo to stakeholders it’s mobile, when we do user testing it’s mobile.

    Mobile mobile mobile.

    The problem is the limitations of the interface.

    I use Jira everyday. It is such a complex app. There’s no way you could get that entire interface into a mobile design with all the existing functionality and - CRITICALLY - have it be a joy to use.

    Given that iOS is pressing on with allowing much better mouse and keyboard use with iPads then maybe what you’re proposing could happen with tablets. But even then - that’s just a desktop interface.

    So yeah based on the fact that big companies and small companies alike have been operating “mobile first” for years already - I don’t agree with your prediction.

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      As I note in the article, I'm not talking about being mobile-first, mobile-first is irrefutably a waste of time and resources if you want to build a SaaS product that competes for the business of the 5.4 billion people who will only ever be mobile users (by the end of the decade) - that is the opportunity. Perhaps you misunderstood the difference between mobile-only and mobile-first, a clear distinction I drew in the article but a novel concept for many.

      Regarding the JIRA example - I've been using it for about 7-8 years now and I'm sure you'll agree that 70% of JIRA's functionality is superfluous for most businesses, not to mention that the UX is unrelentingly bad 😛. The thing is, you don't need feature parity to compete, you need a quality of experience and clear business value for your target market. Notion has captured plenty of Atlassian's clientele, as did Trello (before Atlassian acquired them) and it didn't involve offering the complexity that JIRA has to offer.

      Of course JIRA exists within an ecosystem of other services that are also geared towards the desktop user (primarily engineers and PMs/POs) - that ecosystem of complementary services simply doesn't exist in the mobile space at the moment. I'd also agree you're not realistically going to be doing some things, like writing code - but, you absolutely can design lovable, complex applications on mobile devices, I promise 😊. Again, I never said every application needs to work on mobile, but it's undeniable that the Atlassian suite or Workday (examples noted in my article) could be readily outcompeted with a laser focus on the mobile-only market.

      Given that mobile-only will basically be the whole market by 2030, it's hard not to see huge upsides to tools and services tailored exclusively to this problem, rather than an inferior legacy experience created to satisfy the remaining 25% of cross-device users.

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        I actually didn't misunderstand your definition of mobile only. I simply disagree with it as a concept.

        Any good designer who designs for mobile is, or should be, by default designing for larger screens also.

        There is no UI element that you can put on mobile that won't also work on desktop. However there are elements you could put in a desktop design that just don't work on mobile. Therefore in my opinion mobile only is a fallacy.

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          At the moment yes, designers and developers of course need to be designing for multiple devices, I haven't denied that or even talked about how people should be operating at present - I've talked about where things are going next.

          If you paid attention to the 9 example screenshots I placed in the article you'd see that barely any even relate to the user interface, it's the fact the entire experience is rife with bugs and inconsistencies because companies trying to offer tools across devices are relentlessly incapable of delivering. If you started a business that wasn't trying to cater for the whole breadth of devices (in a world where most of those users are soon to see them as an irrelevance) then you have a huge advantage - among other advantages I have listed in the article.

          You can take the position that 'mobile-only is a fallacy' but that's an utterly nonsensical statement - it is quite literally an application paradigm that already exists. I'm not wasting any more time on a conversation with someone that can't construct a coherent argument or critically evaluate something they've just read 😴

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            I've got to admit that the over reaction of armchair experts on IH when you disagree with them is quite something.

            I say "I disagree" | You say "you don't understand"
            I say "I disagree" | You say "you can't evaluate what you've read"
            I say "in my opinion" | You say "YOU'RE WRONG!!!!!"

            How utterly, utterly ignorant.

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              Primer, for what it's worth, you seem to get in a lot more arguments than the average IHer. It's fine to disagree, but if you do it so matter-of-factly instead of doing it with excess grace, you're predictably going to arouse ire in people. That's just how human psychology works, and it's why I put "say something nice" as the default text in the commenting boxes.

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                Actually no - before I go...

                I did say something nice. My initial response was perfectly fine and it's been upvoted a few times even. However the response from the OP was full of disdain because my opinion didn't align his.

                "Perhaps you didn't understand..."

                No I understood fine I just disagreed. However even my next response was also fine. I finished off by saying

                "In my opinion...."

                I made a point of saying that because that way I was making it clear it was just my opinion, and then in the next response I was told

                "I'm not wasting any more time on a conversation with someone that can't construct a coherent argument or critically evaluate something they've just read"

                and

                "If you paid attention to the 9 example screenshots I placed in the article..."

                The OP has taken my polite disagreement and my opinion and basically said, you're stupid, you don't understand and you're wrong.

                I absolutely respect you @csallen and what you've built, but you're calling out the wrong person here.

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                    Why can you call his idea “utterly nonsensical” but he can’t have his opinion? Then you say he’s incoherent, and you try to say you’re being positive. There’s no critical thinking to be made about your “gold rush”.

                    Also, @csallen I’m not a big fan of the interjection to @Primer only. IH needs to have brutally honest feedback and this guy got one ounce of honest feedback and got upset. Now that you said something to Mick only, he’s being smug.

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                      IH has never needed to have "brutally honest" feedback. Kind honest feedback works best and is preferred by most. My response to @Primer was about more than just this post in isolation.

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                Fair enough - I'm out.

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                I'm taking onboard what you've said here.

                With regards to this specific thread I'm going to let the upvotes and downvotes do the talking.

                With regards to everything else I'll be more wary of my words.

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            it is quite literally an application paradigm that already exists.

            No it isn't.

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                Yes and they are designed with the limitations of the platform in mind.

                IN MY OPINION (is that alright, am I allowed an opinion?) you'll never get a full SaaS platform like Jira or any of the others you mentioned to be mobile only.

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    I completely disagree. I’m going to come back to this and write more because currently, I’m on my phone, and I hate writing long-form messages on my phone.

    Did you write this piece on your phone? I bet you didn’t.

    Edit: Back on a laptop

    This means 100’s of millions of people will be starting, and running, businesses exclusively from their mobile phones.

    Really? Where's the data? I am excited to see what happens, however, this seems absurd. I have never met anyone who runs an actual business from their phone. I'd love to see some examples.

    You wouldn’t want to support your business exclusively via your phone ...

    I wouldn't want to support a business from my phone anyway... Even if the experience was perfect for mobile.

    With a laser focus on the mobile-only user you’re instantly going to win the hearts, minds and wallets of the next generation of business owners.

    How? Why would anyone care that there's a company building for mobile-only? It's like you're comparing being mobile-only is akin to being a charitable business tackling world hunger. I just don't see how anyone would throw their wallet at a business because they only designed a platform for a mobile app.

    Not only that, but your design and development costs will be a fraction of those faced by companies trying to build and maintain their services across all devices.

    Again, how? Where's the data? Building for the web is one of the easiest things to do. Not so much for mobile. I'd like to see the data you get this info from.

    Moving faster and regularly updating your mobile app will give provide you with search prominence, but don’t forget ad-spend either.

    This doesn't make any sense to me. I feel like there's a disconnect between building a quality product and just being "mobile-only" - maybe I don't understand. I am happy to learn.

    However, look at their spend on mobile, in apps stores etc, and you’ll see a much more competitive landscape.

    The SaaS world is insanely competitive at all angles. So a blanket statement on apps being more competitive because it's about spending on ads is silly. Why do you think it's more competitive?

    If I take a quick look at my phone it’s obvious that the social media, journalism, banking, fitness, and entertainment apps are undeniably better than their desktop equivalents.

    This is undeniably an opinion. I use banking, entertainment, and social media apps on my laptop more than my phone. My opinion is that I prefer my laptop.

    most are so well established that it’s hardly worth trying to compete
    Wait, I shouldn't compete in the mobile-only space?

    Oh yeah, and unlike consumers who are nervous about spending their money, the B2B market expects, and respects, you charging a fee - especially when you can clearly demonstrate improvements to their bottom line!

    So 5.4 Billion people are all in the B2B category? I'm sorry but I just disagree with most of your statements. I'd love to see the data, the facts about the numbers you're giving. However, based on my experience I can't help but disagree.

    All in all, it makes complete sense to develop SaaS for more than just a single platform.

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      Hey @makr, thanks for the reply 🙂, I try to respond to each point:

      Did you write this piece on your phone? I bet you didn’t.

      The sort of people that are using indiehackers and building digital tools and services right this moment are not going to be part of the 3/4 of internet users only on mobile, myself included. So no, I didn't write the message on my phone 😊. If you're starting your reply to my article by looking at the world right this moment, and expecting 2030 internet access to look like it does today, then you're naturally going to disagree - I also disagree with the article if I project our the status quo onto the future.

      Really? Where's the data? I am excited to see what happens, however, this seems absurd. I have never met anyone who runs an actual business from their phone. I'd love to see some examples.

      There are already 100's of million of entrepreneurs in the world and with the global population expected to rise in conjunction with the continued transition to digital business administration, there will indeed be 100's of million of people trying to run business that want the benefits of technology but only ever use mobile devices. Not to mention that running and growing a business isn't the exclusive domain of the founder/entrepreneur - it's also the case that people who work at those businesses use these tools and services.

      Here is one example link article about how around 3/4 of all internet access will be via smartphones only users...by 2025. And if you take the projected population of internet users by 2030 - 7.5 billion users - and apply that same weighting it's around 5.6 billion 🙂

      I wouldn't want to support a business from my phone anyway... Even if the experience was perfect for mobile.

      Neither would I! It would suck for me haha. But we likely will be in the 25% of people that are not confined to a mobile only version of the internet. That won't be a choice for most people for economic reasons, and for others they will just never have had access to pcs/laptop so they won't be self evidently a good option.

      How? Why would anyone care that there's a company building for mobile-only? It's like you're comparing being mobile-only is akin to being a charitable business tackling world hunger. I just don't see how anyone would throw their wallet at a business because they only designed a platform for a mobile app.

      The people aren't choosing you because you've designed exclusively for mobile - in fact they probably will have no idea 😊. They will be choosing the better user experience, the company that iterates fasters to meet their business needs, the company who's app is faster and less buggy. That company is the one not trying to scale across every screen type - as you can see from the way current SaaS companies continue to fail in this respect (extension of this reply after your next quote).

      Again, how? Where's the data? Building for the web is one of the easiest things to do. Not so much for mobile. I'd like to see the data you get this info from.

      All the leading SaaS platforms are already offering mobile apps, so they have the costs of developing for the responsive web and providing a mobile offering. It's a huge additional expenditure as you note - mobile isn't easy - which is why they screw it up because they're pulled in too directions and their mobile apps are often a token gesture. I don't think that Atlassian's apps are rubbish on mobile because mobile is hard, it's because they've currently got no incentive to throw their full weight behind the mobile experience - that will change as demographics and usage do, which is what I'm highlighting is seemingly inevitable.

      This doesn't make any sense to me. I feel like there's a disconnect between building a quality product and just being "mobile-only" - maybe I don't understand. I am happy to learn.

      Sorry, yes this point is a bit light in the article, but all I'm alluding to is that app stores give prominence to regularly updated and improved applications - the largest SaaS companies are not updating their mobile apps that often and when they do it's more often bug fixes 😜. If we were to focus on mobile-only our resources are more targeted and shipping is faster as we're not worrying about cross screen/device parity etc.

      The SaaS world is insanely competitive at all angles. So a blanket statement on apps being more competitive because it's about spending on ads is silly. Why do you think it's more competitive?

      This is a fair criticism, the statement was definitely more anecdotal on my part 🙂. I've worked at several SaaS companies and we always committed our advertising spend predominantly towards the web, and didn't drop big PPC budgets on anything in app stores despite having apps with high usage - it wasn't worth it for us because the apps just weren't very good so the blowback for the product team would suck...like a massive influx of feature requests and bug reports each time their was a campaign to grow app usage. I feel like that's quite common, but indeed I may very well be wrong.

      This is undeniably an opinion. I use banking, entertainment, and social media apps on my laptop more than my phone. My opinion is that I prefer my laptop.
      Wait, I shouldn't compete in the mobile-only space?

      I'll take these two comments together as they're linked. That part of the article was making the point that consumer apps are not the opportunity, SaaS is - so yes...you shouldn't compete in the mobile space when it comes to entertainment, social media, fitness etc...it's very likely a waste of time and resources 🙂 .

      On the apps point, you're right that's it's opinion statement, though it wasn't about my preference, rather than quality of craftsmanship of the applications themselves 0 like I prefer to watch Netflix on my TV than my phone, but the mobile app is a better product.

      If I take the some of the biggest items I'd been looking at on my phone when writing (in each category) they were Instagram, Youtube, Netflix, BBC News, BBC Sport, Endomondo (though I'm not even sure they have a browser equivalent?). They're all consumer apps that are dropping a massive proportion of their budget on the mobile experience, and it shows because they are more refined and elegant than their desktop equivalents. Which comes back to why I linked those to questions of yours together - this part of the article was making the case for focusing on SaaS over consumer apps as the opportunity is greater (less competition, easier to create a better product).

      So 5.4 Billion people are all in the B2B category? I'm sorry but I just disagree with most of your statements. I'd love to see the data, the facts about the numbers you're giving. However, based on my experience I can't help but disagree.

      All in all, it makes complete sense to develop SaaS for more than just a single platform.

      I think I've already answered this one early 🙂but in summary to that B2B point, the links I've shared highlight that yes there will be 100's of millions of people looking to run businesses that are part of the 5.4(ish) billion mobile-only internet population by 2030.

      Basically yes, I know it sounds insane at face value, but the demographic and technology trends are fairly well signposted so I thought it was worth calling out the opportunity. You truly should be more competitive if you're focused on mobile-only and especially because the incumbants are doing such a terrible job. I respect and understand why at the moment they have to exist in all places - but better to think of mobile-only as a niche (just a 75% of the market niche)...and we all know how indiehackers love to focus on a niche! haha.

      Thanks for your thoughtful reply, hopefully I've backed up some of my arguments, but naturally future-gazing will always be controversial, I appreciate that!

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        I appreciate your in-depth reply and I do agree with your last statement, thank you for your reply.

        This is the thought provoking content that I enjoy seeing on IH. I guess only time will tell.

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    As an iOS developer, I approve!

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      Yeah, me too, I would love that's the case, but reading the other comments, I have my doubts that heavy apps will leave the desktop any time soon. Behemoth like Photoshop (editing tools), software development (ex. Xcode).
      It's a bandwidth problem: 5/6" screens vs 15~40 or more.
      Full Keyboard where you type with your 10 fingers and a mouse or a trackpad vs limited stuff on phones.

      The design of UI/UX will continue to work around the limitations and strengths of each platform (phones, iPads, notebooks, desktop, workstations, etc)

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        I'd predict Xcode will be on iPadOS within 5 years, especially with Apple's recent switch to arm processors and how they have been adding desktop like features to iPad (filesystem, USB-C, its super fast, etc.)

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        Definitely, I mean for sure it's not all heading to mobile-only 🙂 A lot of apps and services should though! Many will fragment into micro-services, just like adobe has attempted to do with their mobile offering e.g. you could see an accountancy app like Xero, but that focused exclusively on receipt scanning, with a sister app focused on banking reconciliation - apps per key-task as it were.

        One note on the keyboard concern - you'd be amazed how many people use voice rather than keyboard for typing nowadays!

        You're rightly concerned about the UX across platforms, it's the key to getting it right! Android+iOS is a much smaller ecosystem to support than the entire universe of devices and platforms that people currently support I suppose!

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      Wise career choice 😍 haha

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    I think the fact that even the most killer "mobile-only" apps like Instagram and Tinder have come up with desktop versions shows that mobile-only isn't tenable in the long run.

    Desktop will always be around. Web will always be around. They all have their perks that mobile can't compete with.

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      Definitely, there will always be a non-mobile user base 🙂 I'm just making the case that the trends point towards 3/4 of users never using anything but mobile, which means you could hypothetically become a serious competitor to the established SaaS big-guns by focusing exclusive on the mobile-only experience - you'd have a much tighter focus and should be able to create the superior product for lower cost.

      Posted this above as part of another reply, but thought I'd share it again as it's helpful to see the numbers I'm basing my user-base size on:

      Here is one example article about how around 3/4 of all internet access will be via smartphones-only users...by 2025. And if you take the projected population of internet users by 2030 - 7.5 billion users - and apply that same weighting it's around 5.6 billion.

      Mobile doesn't have to compete with desktop for those people, it just has to be the best mobile experience, as they'll never know anything else. You and I will for sure continue to use desktop as honestly it's always going to be way better for people with access to both 😊

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    There's always going to be fast food (mobile-only) ... and fine-dining (desktop.) And never the twain shall meet.

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      Awesome, love this analogy 🙂- essentially what I'm proposing is that once 3/4 of all internet users are mobile-only then there is a big opportunity to be had by creating a fine-dining experience for mobile users as the established players will struggle to offer that!

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    Interesting article but I think the way the problem has to be approached is different. The people coming onto the internet now use it in a different way especially in the developing world there the majority of the new internet users are going to come from.

    I live in a developing country and for a lot of people the internet is Whatsapp/TikTok/Instagram. A lot of new businesses are run off whatsapp, they do not have a website or a mobile app. They run entirely off whatsapp. So what ever SAAS app you build has to work off whatsapp or Instagram or Tiktok. And things become messy there because you have to depend on another platform which does not really want you there.

    The other thing is that some apps just do not work well on a phone. Phones/tablets are great for consuming content, not creating it. I cannot imagine creating a bunch of tickets on a phone or writing a blog article or even writing this comment on a phone.

    I think you have to account for those factors when deciding on what to build as a mobile app.

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      You're right, plenty of small businesses can and will run through Instagram, Whatsapp, TikTok etc. But try running your recruitment through one of those, your tax returns, your payroll, large scale customer support, internal company documentation, building/managing your website etc - a total non-starter at present.

      Ultimately I think the mobile-only opportunity is platform agnostic, it could be a service nested within an existing app like WeChat, Whatsapp etc, or it could be a native application for a mobile OS - it could even be run through voicemail. 3/4 of humanity are not going to settle for being excluded from fully digitised participation in global commerce - no chance. If you can find ways to solve this the upsides are huge 😊

      Your example of tickets is perfect to be honest - it truly is a nightmare to create and manage tickets at scale on mobile at the moment (whether it's a helpdesk, or project management board etc). That said, this is genuinely solvable, it would just require some real innovations. Imagine how useful the concept of ticketing is for businesses all across the world and the consequences if you could bring the power of that working model to the mobile-only market (i.e. 3/4 of the entire market by 2030)!

      In short, it's not about the app or platform, it's about the device and the problems that businesses need to solve in a world where almost everyone never sees a PC/laptop.

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    I strongly disagree!

    I know a company which was a leader in their niche, lost their way when they decided to go mobile only approach. This led to competition taking a major chunk of their users and the company was no longer a leader. And the cofounder who made the decision was thrown out (there were other reasons too).

    Web is still powerful!

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      A business could definitely be too early out of the gate for mobile-only, and I suppose arguably I'd never suggest a profitable business with most clientele focused on desktop usage pivot to mobile-only! I'm more interested in products developed exclusively for mobile from the get go, as the lion's share of internet users by 2030 will never encounter a desktop device 🙂

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    In your view, would this mobile first world would be in a native space, hybrid (e.g.:React native) or PWA?

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      Good question! I think my heart says PWA 😍, but my brain says native would likely win the war haha - what do you think?

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    Interesting point and very well could be the case. I think it depends on what the business landscape looks like in 10 years time with regards to people sitting at desks to to a job vs being out in the 'field'. IMHO if you're at a desk, you're gonna open up that laptop. If you're out in the field, you'll open up your mobile device. Who knows, so much could change in a decade.

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      Thank @mcas 😊 - I guess it's not so much related to the role/type of work but this is a great point, there are definitely plenty of business that will continue to find the option of desktop/laptop computing essential!

      The thing is that 3/4 of internet users by 2030 simply will never use a computer - it seems pretty likely that a big proportion of those people will still wish to run businesses and they just won't even have the option or interest in a desktop/laptop as they're unaware it's potential as an alternative. Desktop will always be the superior option for administering your business, but many people will never experience that so we can making a winning product by focus on their needs exclusively 🙂

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        Best of luck @blunicorn ! Lead the charge my friend!

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    To be honest, I click on the article, I noticed that the URL is not ssl/https, and I closed the tab.
    it's not a problem to read an article on a no-secure website, but about an article of a prediction to the future about digital marketing is a no-sense

    1. 1

      haha thanks Tim, well spotted! There's clearly something weird going on - like the blog, our whole website, app etc are all have valid SSL certificates - not sure what the issue is with that specific page. I'll let you know when I've figured out what's going on 😊

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    By the end of this decade three quarters of all internet users, 5.4 billion people, will be mobile-only.

    Seems very likely.

    This means 100’s of millions of people will be starting, and running, businesses exclusively from their mobile phones.

    Where can I read more about how you arrived at this number?

    Thanks! Interesting piece.

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      Hey @levidxyz thanks for the reply!

      I actually just answered a similar question further up, so I will share it here, hopefully explains a bit of my thinking 😊

      There are already 100's of million of entrepreneurs in the world and with the global population expected to rise in conjunction with the continued transition to digital business administration, there should indeed be 100's of million of people trying to run business that want the benefits of technology but only ever use mobile devices. Not to mention that running and growing a business isn't the exclusive domain of the founder/entrepreneur - it's also the case that people who work at those businesses use these tools and services.

      Here is one example link article about how around 3/4 of all internet access will be via smartphones only users...by 2025. And if you take the projected population of internet users by 2030 - 7.5 billion users - and apply that same weighting it's around 5.6 billion 🙂

      As with anything predictive I can only take a variety of source data and predications available now and speculate based on that - naturally quite controversial as you can see in the comments 😂. What do you think having seen those numbers?