40% Of YouTube Traffic On Mobile -- But What Does Mobile Really Mean, Anyway?

This just in to the Social Media Insider newsroom: some 40% of YouTube’s traffic now comes from a mobile device, up from 25% last year and a mere 6% in 2011.

Now, if we only could get clear on what mobile means.

What, you say? The alleged social media insider is unclear what mobile means? Well, yes -- but let me explain. The essence of my question isn’t about the dictionary definition of mobile, but whether -- as tablets and smartphones have simultaneously taken over the earth -- we are defining mobile as narrowly as we should. While no one would argue about whether smartphones and tablets are mobile, shouldn’t the tablet and smartphone usage numbers on any platform be broken out separately? Should we really be equating these two devices?

The more time I spend toggling between my iPad and my Droid RAZR (the one with the dying battery), the clearer the differences become, dictated not only by their relative mobility, but by their screen sizes and their interfaces.

Case in point: the interface of an iPhone and an iPad may be virtually the same, but can you really say that the experience of watching video on them is the same? Of course not! Most of us would agree that the iPad experience is much more immersive, because, well, it’s bigger.

But the way screen size affects experience is only the beginning. While there are many people who tote around their iPads and their iPhones everywhere they go, does anyone really use them the exact same way in comparable situations? A smartphone is great for video snacking while standing in the long line at Stop ‘n’ Shop, an iPad -- not so much. But in a less transitory situation, given the choice between doing the same thing on a tablet and a smartphone, my guess is that most of us would use the tablet.

It’s only in the most dire situations, for instance, that I do extensive email on my Droid, even though my email client, Gmail, is native to that phone. It’s harder to work on the phone, and then there are the battery and connectivity issues. For me the WiFi on my tablet is far more reliable than 4G, and the Gmail interface is just better. Those may not be your personal issues, but we all have versions of the same.

So, when I see headlines about mobile usage on YouTube, Facebook, and elsewhere, I find the metrics sorely lacking because they make two experiences comparable that actually aren’t. Perhaps this stems from the similarities under the skins of smartphones and tablets. Watching YouTube on either is usually an app-driven action, while it’s not on the desktop.

But for people in marketing, what really should matter is the consumer experience. That means we should stop assigning the blanket designation “mobile” to both smartphones and tablets. They are not the same, and everybody knows it.

4 comments about "40% Of YouTube Traffic On Mobile -- But What Does Mobile Really Mean, Anyway?".
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  1. David Carlick from Carlick, October 21, 2013 at 3:07 p.m.

    I have often wondered the same thing, including netbooks and the smaller Macbook Air. Have been living on a notebook (no desktop) for almost 20 years, that isn't mobile?

  2. Kevin Burke from WholesomeOne, October 21, 2013 at 3:49 p.m.

    Couldn't agree more. Mobile is the wrong terminology to be using.

    At times it is easy to forget the difference.

    When we developed our new web site, we were constantly comparing the different screen experiences using this cool little free script. I have no affiliation to it, just think it works nicely.

  3. Judy Bellem from SMM Advertising, October 21, 2013 at 10:18 p.m.

    I agree that the user experience is different, and yes, as marketers we need to address this, but I do not have a problem lumping the experiences in general, whether an iPad, similar device, or tablet, or variations of tablets, or the cell phone ALL under the umbrella term "Mobile". Statistics will inform us of the user variations.

  4. Alex Avery from Alex Avery Inc - Inbound Marketing Consultant, October 29, 2013 at 11:13 p.m.

    It's about understanding your customer bases consumption behaviour and provding appripriate content. Don't pump YouTube full of HD content if your users are 90% on mobile, and vice versa. A 720p low res video does little for your brand if your customers are PC/tablet consumers wanting/expecting a "quality" experience. If in doubt, do both. No one's going to sue you for posting two versions of the same video.

    I've been having the same conversation with clients about Instagram vs Pinterest: are your consumers high res desktop/tablet (Pinterest) or low res mobile (Instagram)? You can argue about it, but not everyone can be everywere all the time.

    Think about it.

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