Photo sharing: trillions and rising

TMT Predictions 2016

Executive summary

Deloitte Global predicts that in 2016, 2.5 trillion photos will be shared or stored online, a 15 percent increase on the prior year. About three-quarters of this total will likely be shared, and the remainder backed up online. We estimate the number of photos shared online to be about 31 times the volume taken (let alone shared) in the 1990s, when about 80 billion were taken every year.

The expected network impact of all this sharing will be about 3.5 exabytes, a 20 percent increase over the previous year. We expect the network impact of photographs to continue rising for the foreseeable future, driven by steady increases in the volume of photos taken, shared and backed up, as well as rising average file size.

We estimate that over 90 percent of the photos shared or stored online will have been taken on a smartphone. The dominance of the smartphone for photo sharing is due to its ubiquity and the rate at which owners upgrade their devices. Photo sharing has been and will likely be enabled and encouraged by improvements in smartphone capabilities, as well as faster fixed and mobile connectivity. Photography’s appeal is partly about capturing and sharing a moment: smartphones enable both to occur almost simultaneously. Also, they remove the lengthy time lag with standard photographic film between taking and sharing a photo. Smartphones can reduce the processes of taking, adjusting and sending a high definition photo to less than a second.

We expect 1.6 billion smartphones to be sold in total this year, equivalent to about 23 times peak sales of film cameras (70 million units, 1999), 13 times the peak for digital cameras (120 million SLR and compact digital cameras, 2010) and 40 times 2014 digital camera sales (40 million units). We forecast about three-quarters of smartphones sold to be upgrades, with most having better cameras, processors, connectivity and storage than their predecessors.

In 2016, we expect the average size of photos taken to increase, thanks to the rising resolution of smartphone cameras. Average resolution, as measured in megapixels (MP), of smartphones on sale increased from 2.4 MP in 2007 to 9 MP last year. We forecast average resolution for smartphones on sale to surpass 10 MP this year.

A core reason for the rise in photos shared online is the widening array of tools that enable and encourage sharing. As of end-2015, there were over 2,000 photo-sharing apps available. Some tools encourage keeping images for posterity; others emphasize transience, for those who prefer it. Photos can be shared with the whole world, or with selected individuals. Rising network speeds make it easier to send bursts of images, quickly.

The growing ease of creating and sharing images is arguably shaping the way people communicate. The speed and quality with which we can take photos encourages photos and videos to be substituted for spoken or written words. Also, increasing volumes of photos are being backed up because of the growing range of tools which enable this, at low or zero cost to the user. A user with multiple back-up services may end up creating a cloud-based copy of the same file multiple times. The profusion of both sharing and back-up services could lead to one photo being shared and backed-up hundreds of times.

Last but not least, the more fervent reaction to social network posts with photos is likely to encourage yet more posts with images. Posts with photos get 53 percent more ‘likes’, 104 percent more comments, and 84 percent more click-through than text-only posts.

Photo sharing: trillions and rising

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