Users can access nearly all forms of media from nearly any web-enabled device. Users can read news articles, listen to radio stations, update Facebook status, and watch movies from their computer, smartphone, iPad, and TV set, but that doesn’t mean they actually do. The content users choose to access is highly dependent on the experience they are looking for at any given moment, and the devices must support that need. For example: you’re probably reading this from your computer, because that’s the device you would go to when you want to read a blog entry. These aren’t usually conscious decisions, but in this series we’re going to put forth our assumptions about the types of devices people prefer to use when they need to access a particular type of content. We hope this discussion can help to improve all our connected lifestyles with improved experiences across devices and mediums.
While most people recognize the iPad and other tablets as the newest way to access media and the Internet, it’s really the smartphone that offers the newest experience. We see the tablets as a digital evolution of pre-existing experiences – sitting down to read a book, watch a movie, or browse the web. Smartphones, being with us wherever we go, take advantage of this newfound accessibility and can become more than the sum of their parts when applications integrate the available hardware with our environment to improve daily lives.
One unique point about smartphones is how far they span from content consumption to content creation. Cell phones used to be simply for direct, two-way communication, but people now use them for content consumption like finding directions, news, and listening to music, and for content creation like uploading photos, posting status updates, and broadcasting location. While smartphones have access to all this content, the specific way this content should be presented is entirely different on a phone than on the more traditional desktop, and it’s not simply due to screen size or processing power.
The fundamental difference that mobile devices have from other digital devices is the fact that they are mobile. We don’t sit in front of our phone, engrossed in whatever application we’re running. We check in, check up, and move on. The phone is all about accessibility. We always have it with us, so we’re accessible to other people, and information is accessible to us. The smartphone gives us what we need to improve that very moment. Late to a meeting and need directions? Done. Need the latest business headlines? Done. Wondering who sings the song currently playing in the background? There’s an app for that. The smartphone is key to improving our circumstances in spur-of-the-moment situations.
One could claim that smartphone users only care about snippets of information and forego the details, but that’s not necessarily the case. We believe the smartphone isn’t providing us with all the information we need, it’s just assisting in our mobile lifestyle. The types of people who have dedicated times for getting engrossed on content will continue to do so; the smartphone simply enables them to check in from time to time for up to the minute updates. Headlines, sports scores, and status updates of interest will lead to exploration for further detail. It just won’t be explored on a smartphone.
This isn’t to say no one will ever read a full news article or a watch a movie on smartphone. The Nielsen Three Screen Report shows that full-length video on a mobile device is quite popular with teenagers, likely due to the preferred device, a television, being used by someone else in the household. Given the choice, we believe people prefer a device that allows for more immersion when they want to be absorbed in detailed content.
The challenge right now is not to make more immersive smartphone apps to engage distracted users; it’s to integrate our smartphone apps so that users don’t have to be distracted. Many have taken great strides to offer us unique experiences on our phones that integrate well with the moments and challenges we live through, but we are still in the beginning. How can we support not only our spur-of-the-moment needs, but also an integrated experience where the right device for a task isn’t a choice that needs to be made?