Commentary

Honey, My iPhone Shrunk My Fingers!

The theory goes that people simply will conduct more desktop-like business and follow more desktop-like behaviors as the smartphone screen gets closer to the size of the tablet. After all, from pretty much the time the iPad was launched we saw this effect in its much better conversion rates and revenue produced per user. On smartphones there has always been that reticence to click through -- that slight trepidation over where that click will take you and how mobile-friendly the landing spot is. Bandwidth being what it had been, few of us are interested in crawling our way to the next location. Google well understood this, and for years it urged publishers aggressively to build mobile-friendly sites. Load times and design had a direct and clear impact on user willingness to interact. The small screen put an invisible ceiling on interactive behaviors for many of us.

So now that millions of Apple fans and Android converts are moving to the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus roomier displays, will we see greater interactivity among users? The first metrics I have seen yet regarding iPhone 6 behaviors suggest that the conventional wisdom is holding true. Albeit from a select sample of its own client base, Merkle agency RKG in its quarterly report on search discovered that in their early weeks on the market, iPhone 6 models were driving noticeably higher interactions and revenue than even the iPhone 5 family.

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The company found that among the search ads for the 50 retailers it handles, iPhone 6 conversion rates were 32% higher than previous models. In fact, the iPhone 6 was tracking slightly better than the Plus. When it came to revenue-per-visit, however, the iPhone 6 Plus was already 67% higher.

The figures are at best preliminary and require tons of qualification. iPhone 6 buyers are likely early adopters and heavy digital users, but that iPhone 6 Plus spike in revenue-per-user is especially interesting. It suggests that a jumbo phone could produce for advertisers some of the higher ROI they are already seeing off of tablets.

And none too soon. RKG also sees tablet traffic from its campaigns running flat in the most recent quarter. Paid-click share coming from the larger screen remained at 18% even as smartphone share rose to 20%. Possibly we are seeing that as the smartphones screen grow the conversion and m-commerce habits of the tablet will begin migrating to the handhelds. In year-over-year ad-spend growth RKG was putting 117% more into smartphones on behalf of clients compared to 40% more to tablets and 17% for desktop. Clicks on smartphones were up 71% versus 34% on tablets and 5% on desktop. And the cost-per-click was up 27% on smartphones, 4% on tablets and 11% on desktop. Again, this is a limited client set -- but still suggestive of shifts in habits and media spend.  

In my own experience, after several weeks with the iPhone 6 Plus this transfer is already taking place. The phone is now my default lean-back device while watching TV. Just as the tablet pretty much retired my laptop use during prime time years ago, the larger smartphone is displacing the iPad. Whether I am any more inclined to click deeper or convert to purchase on the device is harder to tell. But I am less inclined to relegate certain digital experiences to tablet or laptop than I once was. Digital comics, for instance, had been too tiny, even in panel-by-panel mode, on the iPhone 5s to read text balloons. Now the screen size is almost ideal and considerably larger than their print versions. I am guessing that the larger screen will give video advertising a special bump, if my own usage is an indicator. I am much more tolerant of pre-roll and I have more opportunity to cut off auto-play clips I don’t want.

In fact, one happy consequence of larger screens for the mobile ad industry may be obvious only when you think about it. Larger displays allow for greater touch accuracy. It is more forgiving of bad mobile design and microscopic ad elements. This can only be good news for an ad industry that is often defensive about fat finger syndrome.

Honey, my iPhone shrunk my fingers! 

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