Commentary

Mobile First: Your Phone Is Now An Appliance

Sitting in our living room on any given evening, I have an embarrassment of mobile riches before me: laptop, tablet, smartphone.  

"Do we have time to make a movie?" my wife asks.

Given a choice of three mobile devices with which to answer the questions of what is playing when nearby, the smartphone is the obvious default choice for a number of reasons now. With geo-location built in, one tap to an app rather than consulting a browser bookmark, and a straightforward need, the phone represents the shortest distance between question and answer, hands down.  

"Is it going to rain on the way?"  

Again, my Weather Channel app gets me in and to the radar image faster. 

"Ask your daughter if she wants to come," she adds.  

Well, that is too easy. My 19-year-old tells me she consults e-mail about once a week now. And she ignores phone calls. SMS is pretty much the only certain route.  

But the smartphone is not just getting more of my daily Internet mindshare when the task is specific. Because of its uncluttered touch interface, I find myself defaulting to it for triaging news feeds and most of the other lean-back data scans I ordinarily would do idly in the evenings while I pay only half-attention to Anderson Cooper and Jon Stewart.  

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According to the new Pew Internet & American Life "Smartphone Adoption and Usage" report, I am not alone. My colleague Mark Walsh today reports on the general platform usage stats, so I won't repeat.

But I wanted to drill into one section of the research Pew aptly titled "Smartphones as an Internet Appliance." Here they find that among those 35% of us owning smartphones, 87% use it to access the Internet or email. More to the point, 68% say they go online every day with their device. In fact that average is pulled down by the 50+ demo, since 81% of the 18- to 29-year-olds and 71% of the 30- to 49-year-olds are going online via mobile daily. The ethnic demo that is most devoted to mobile Web appears to be Latino, with 74% using mobile to access the Internet. 

The most telling part of the Pew research is the degree to which mobile is becoming the entryway of choice for users. Among the 87% of smartphone owners who access the Internet by phone, 28% now say they are hitting digital data mostly by mobile. "Put another way," the report says, "this means that 25% of all smartphone owners...do most of their online browsing on their mobile phones."

Pew calls this avant-garde "Cell Mostly" users. This segment is going to be interesting to track because there are fascinating opportunities here. For instance, the group cuts across two different axes. On the one hand it is decidedly young, with 42% of Cell Mostlies in the 18-29 group. But at the same time it skews Black and Latino, with 38% of these groups being mobile first compared to only 17% of the White demo. As well, 40% of lower-income users ($30,000 and below) are using their mobile phones as the primary access to the Internet. Which is to say that two concurrent trends are clear. A large segment of the U.S. population may well be accessing the Internet exclusively by mobile, but it is associated as much with age as it is with ethnicity and income.  

The "Cell Mostly" group is indicative of the larger shift in which, for an increasing number of Internet tasks, the mobile Web is becoming the preferred mode. And from this user's perspective, the lure of going mobile first in many cases is not just convenience and always-there-ness. It is the lack of clutter, the level of engagement with a tactile interface, the personalization that geo-location allows, the relevance of a well-tuned app or mobile Web site compared to its usually bloated cousin.

My list of mobile-first haunts is increasing every day: Facebook, Weather.com, Engadget, newsfeeds, ChaCha, Fandango, Yahoo. All these brands I once regularly frequented online I rarely visit in my desktop browser any more. The experience is simply better now on my smartphone. Not fancier, not visually more potent -- simply better. On mobile is where all these content providers became genuine appliances.

What are your mobile-first brands?

3 comments about "Mobile First: Your Phone Is Now An Appliance".
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  1. John Payne from American Academy of Family Physicians, July 12, 2011 at 3:20 p.m.

    My go-to device in your scenario is my trusty iPad. I prefer to use it to check weather, movie times, etc. when it's practical because it offers a better user experience though . . . I don't think I can send a text message. My go-first apps deal with weather, time, directions, texts, e-mail, tweets/posts, etc. What's funny to me is that I wouldn't even be a part of this conversation a mere 8 months ago. How times change. My nifty new laptop is now viewed as a heavy, slow desk top device.

  2. Amit Khemchandani from Adatrix @BIZense Technologies, July 13, 2011 at 5:02 a.m.

    I think there is a pattern here.. I use mobile while I'm on the go for directions, twitter, news etc; use laptop while I'm in an office environment and TV ( thinking of upgrading to IP TV ) at home at night. So there might be patterns in the usage and it may just lead to different usage distribution among people owning multiple internet enabled devices rather than completely shunning out any one particular touch point. And these patterns may differ by location, day-part, age, ethnicity, income etc...

  3. Sonu Parashar from Doon Intractive Solution Pvt Ltd., October 21, 2011 at 7:31 a.m.

    MNCs, medium and small enterprises, schools and universities etc making mobile website every day because of another reason, that the advertisement through this method is almost free for their brand. The mobile version website is reaching a wider range of audience than other basic, traditional ways and so on.

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