Investors See Opportunity in Late Night iPad Addiction and Other Fast-Changing Consumer Behaviors

One irony of the information age is that we’re more skilled than ever at tracking adoption of new technologies.

But the more we data we accumulate about how people use their smartphones, tablets and mobile apps, the faster it seems to become outdated.

“Every number we announce is out of date already,” lamented Don Dodge, developer advocate at Google, speaking at Wednesday’s Ignition West mobile conference.

That was a recurring theme among corporate investors, analysts, entrepreneurs and VCs speaking at the San Francisco conference. Whether it’s about how we interact with tablets, buy stuff on mobile phones, or multitask between our too many screens, nearly everyone had an example of a dramatic consumer behavior change over the past year. And most seem to expect that pace of change will only accelerate.

Following is a list of top five current or predicted behavior changes tied to mobile that investors and entrepreneurs are seeing. I was going to hold off publishing the post till morning, but Observation #1 leads me to think it more people may actually be starting to read this kind of stuff at night:

1.  The iPad is the new after-dinner treat:  It used to be that Internet usage slowed down after supper, as people turned off their work computers and turned to other pursuits such as sleeping, watching TV, reading, and screen-free socializing.

Now, because of mobile and the rise of tablets, people are now using the Internet at times they didn’t previously, says Ben Schacter, senior analyst at Macquarie Capital. Schachter recalled one study which estimated that something like 20% of iPad usage occurred in bed. He did not elaborate, however, about what kind of content people were bringing up on their tablet screens.

2.  One screen is never enough: Just when it seemed the digital age attention span couldn’t get any shorter, new data indicates we’re getting even more distracted.

Content providers say in recent months they’re seeing a sharp increase in the number of people using multiple connected devices simultaneously. That could take the form of texting while watching TV, using a tablet and television simultaneously, or any number of other creative combinations.

“One of the reasons we have a second screen is we don’t sit still anymore,” says Michael Cerda, vice president of product at VEVO, a music video platform. Rather than merely watch a music video, for instance, viewers want to find out more about the band or the song, or engage in something interactive.

There’s investment opportunity in the trend, says Amy Banse, managing director and head of funds at Comcast Ventures. In the past few weeks, she estimates her group has seen close to 30 companies playing in the “second screen experience” area.

“We think in the next 18 months there will be a lot of development in the space,” she says.

3. Mobile advertising is lagging mobile media consumption (but that will shift): Over 10 percent of media time is spent on mobile devices, according to Macquarie’s Schachter. However, less than one percent of ad spending is targeted to mobile.

Conference speakers expect that number to catch up, particularly as evidence mounts that the rate at which consumers are actually consummating transactions on their mobile devices is growing superfast.

Mike Shim, VP of mobile at Groupon, says the company has more than 9 million engaged customers through mobile, a year-over-year increase of more than 300 percent. That’s leading more merchants to seek new and better ways to reach out to customers on their mobiles.

At NBC Universal, Mark Young, VP of mobile strategy, says he’s seeing a big rise in mobile commerce, particularly for the company’s movie ticket tool, Fandango. A few years ago, when he started, about 2 percent of transactions there were on mobile. Now it’s around 25%.

4.  Local business models are hot (And we mean it this time):  A startup’s probability of success is substantially higher, according to Google’s Dodge, if its business is local, social, and mobile, with some gaming component as well.

Dodge says he likes to see companies meet at least two of those criteria. Those with all four, he says, have an even higher chance of doing well in the current environment.

Startups with a focus on letting people find or do things in their local areas are particularly well-poised currently, because the high penetration of smartphones is enabling applications that couldn’t have thrived until recently, says Matt Murphy, partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers who manages its iFund. He says he’s particularly interested in “hyperlocal” applications, such as Zaarly, a site for hiring people nearby for jobs and errands that Kleiner Perkins has backed.

5.  Personal computing is no longer about PCs: Mike Maples, angel investor and founder of Floodgate Fund, has a knack for sound bites. He came up with a good one Wednesday with his observation that: “2011 is the year the computer industry stopped being about computers.”

What does that mean? Well, one of Maples’ observations is that 2011 was the first year in which devices with the Microsoft operating system would account for less than half of the Internet access devices sold. More futuristically, what it means is that, increasingly, we’re moving away not just from the dominant operating systems of the past couple decades, but also away from the paradigm of thinking of Internet access devices as things for people, rather than machines.

Maples, like much of the Silicon Valley crowd that hangs out at forums like TED and Singularity University, is fascinated by the notion of hypernet, or “Internet of things” connected by vast networks of nodes and clouds. And while technologies like 3D printing or Internet-connected appliances have been around for a while, advancements in connected computing, computer vision, and other areas “portends a world where the computer industry is no longer around computers, but around the world of things.”

That’s unlikely to happen anytime soon. But who knows. In five years time, instead of writing columns about the changing ways people are interacting with their mobile devices, we’ll be tracking the new ways refrigerators and tablets are interacting with washing machines.