The Mobile-Only Strategy Imperative

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How long will the personal computer – as we have known it to date-  be relevant?

If you look at any data points surrounding mobile (and putting it in context on a global level), it seems like nobody is using a computer anymore, doesn’t it? How often do you find yourself in need of a computer (be it a desktop or laptop)? When it comes to my work, I can’t imagine a day and age when I would not require something that looks like my MacBook Air. Whether it is for writing or creating presentations, smartphones and tablets are just not up to snuff… at this point. And that’s the rub, isn’t it? "At this point." As the exponential growth of business and technology continues to intertwine, it seems obvious that gesture control and the simplicity/human touch and feel of tablets and smartphones will make the experience of writing and creating presentations that much easier. So, while we’re not quit there yet in terms of content creation, writing and more, there is a vast majority of the population that is making the transition away from the PC as seamless as physical landlines to mobile phones was… only this shift is happening faster and faster.

Just how fast are we moving away from the personal computer?

Three news items captured my attention this week (all of them via Marketing Charts). They were titled:

  1. PC Users Increasingly Turning To Smart Devices For Web Browsing, Facebook Access.
  2. In Q4, 1 in 5 E-Commerce Site Visits Came From A Smartphone Or Tablet.
  3. Twitter Says Its Mobile Users Are More Active, Engaged With Brands.

Kind of staggering, isn’t it?

Exponential growth (in particular, when it comes to users and their usage of technology) can be challenging for businesses to see, understand and embrace. We tend to cling to what we think we see (often acting as A Market of One) or we see things in a linear capacity. Linear capacity is looking at the incremental growth of smartphone usage in your geographical region year over year, but failing to understand that the iPad is only three years old or that the iPhone 5 clocked over two million pre-orders in its first twenty-four hours of being on sale (what happened? Was everyone’s mobile contract up for renewal at the same time?).

We are woefully unprepared.

It’s sad to see how many brands are clinging on to the dogma of what they thought the Internet was all about. Take a look at Silicon Valley (which, by my estimates, is a fairly strong indicator as to where this is all heading). If you look at the new line of darlings (it can be anything from Uber, Snapchat, Instagram, Path, Highlight, Square, whatever), what you see is a mobile-first strategy. Arguably, a mobile-only strategy. Their respective websites are predominantly a one-page splash that drives you to grab the app or experience the company on your smartphone. Not a lot of venture capital is being pumped into anything Web-browser (or PC) based at this moment in time. So, why are so many brands not more bullish on mobile?

It’s the experience, stupid.

Mobile is expensive (in terms of development, production, ideation, etc…), but it also gets more expensive when we have to kill our darlings along with it (traditional websites and other platforms that were built for people who were sitting down at a computer, etc…). When I review the landscape of brands and what they’re doing on mobile, it gives off a certain Groundhog’s Day hue. Marketing departments had to fight for control over the corporate website and e-commerce sites (some are still struggling to control it, as we speak) from the IT department. Now, here we sit, in 2013 and IT departments are the gatekeepers of mobile, apps, smartphones, tablets and more. It’s too complex, too tech-heavy to give up that power to the marketing department, they’ll tell us. So, what do we have? Ultimately, we’re left with some fairly inferior brand experiences on mobile and, instead of looking at ourselves in the mirror, we’re blaming things like a lack of interest from the consumer or not enough strong usage data to make the business case for apps (or whatever). For shame. Make no mistake about it, once again the consumers are ahead of the brands on this one (as they were with social media). The average consumer is getting by just fine with a tablet and/or a smartphone in terms of their day-to-day lives (browsing, engaging in social media, sending the odd email, etc…). Odds are that they would do even more if brands had the courage to give them the experience and utility that they rightfully deserve.

It’s on us.

The event horizon for the PC – as we have known it to date – is not far off. Just look at what Facebook did to switch their browser-based online social network over to a mobile-first strategy. Whether it was forced by consumer demand, Wall Street or their own pro-active realization is irrelevant. Facebook responded. Facebook responded well. Just look at the past six months. They have made massive strides in shedding their PC-based legacy for this brave new world, where we’re all connected, sharing and more in the palms of our hands. That experience is fundamentally differently from the PC and Web browser-based experience. It’s something that brands are going to have to double-down on now. As bullish as I was on the Internet, e-commerce and social media in their nascent stages, I am an unabashed die-hard evangelist for the post PC and post Web browser world. The only difference is that others could have been a fad. This is a reality.

I wonder how many brands have the kind of courage to realize and act on this?


  1. Your post gives me pause for thought. Like you, I prefer having something seemingly more substantial to work. The phone is also harder to read for my ‘old eyes’.
    I was recently invited to a presentation by futurist and author Mike Walsh (Futuretainment). He said that there are people now (young) who don’t recognize that use of their smartphone takes them to the internet. They use their phone all the time; when asked if they use Facebook their reply was yes, it’s in an app on their smartphone. They simply did not recognize they were online. That is an interesting concept too.

  2. Hi Mitch
    I read the book Being Digital I think around 2000 written by Nicholas Negroponte. And while it was pre smart phones and everything else the two biggest obstacles to massive changes in how we use digital technologies is Artificial Intelligence and Voice Recognition.
    While Android Voice Search nails it 95% of the time and Siri (and similar) are coming on board, we aren’t where we need to be.
    But wouldn’t it be nice to just think or say what we want and it happens automatically? Maybe Holographic?
    I say ‘Six Pixels best price and closest location please’ and in front of me ppops up a hologram showing me prices and locations even down to shelf in each store as well as the web with delivery times and just say ‘BUY’ and done.
    But yes until then I see laptops and similar being integral especially for media consumption. The mobile industry brags about video consumption growth on phones but in reality we like big screens. We don’t want to watch Lord of the Rings on a phone unless I am in a long line waiting for hours for something or similar situation.

  3. People use different devices in different circumstances for different reasons.
    With all the advantages inherit in mobile phones, they’re probably not your first choice when researching a high consideration purchase, where imagery is very important or lots of data needs to be reviewed and compared. Think about the last time you researched vacation resorts, a new automobile, or a piece of fine furniture. Screen size trumps mobility on these occasions.
    In other circumstances mobility is by far the most important consideration; such as doing an impromptu search for a decent restaurant in an unfamiliar neighborhood or town.
    Mobility and screen size have a direct correlation to each other. Larger devices with larger screens are not mobile, and vice versa. And there are degrees of mobility. Several studies have shown that tablets spend most of their time in the home. The mobility factor is important to tablet users, but it seems the primary advantage is the ability to carry the device from room to room.
    The not-so-obvious consideration users make when selecting a device is whether they will be producing or consuming (reading, watching, and listening) content. If you’re working on a spreadsheet, editing a complex video, writing software, or writing long-form content, chances are you’re doing it on a laptop or desktop computer. This is because a larger screen size in combination with a full size keyboard and precision mouse provide the best user experience.
    Although tablets and mobile phones are continue to replace time spent with desktops/laptops, many people will continue to spend a considerable amount of time accessing the Internet from these old work horses.
    Btw, I think it’s a mistake to group phones and tablets into the same category/label – “mobile.”

  4. Coming from Thailand, I recently saw a friend who bought an iPhone, that came preloaded, get this, with 37 pages of apps. Thirty-Seven1 She can barely fine her facebook app.
    When people talk about the “mobile-first” ideology, they’re usually talking about apps. But they forget, the first page is only so big, and if you think the entire world fits into that small ~1200 pixel space, then you haven’t seen how most people use their phones.
    Remember the toolbars of the 2000s. Where did they go? My Grandma still has a few – best to ask her. 🙂
    For the sake of clarity, it would be good to separate the dandelions from the roses. Yes, the big flowers look so nice with their snazzy apps, but the real market is in something accessible. The majority of businesses are not going to map an app, and they don’t need to.
    I guess the VC have their head up the arse again. Ohhh, the 2000s, what a time!

  5. Perhaps we’re too hung up on the form factor, whether that’s a desktop PC, tablet, or smartphone. In general, people are creatures of habit so I’m inclined to agree with Howie Goldfarb’s remark regarding media consumption. And different age groups will always require different computing devices (I doubt many folks north of 60 are more likely to be smartphone/tablet users than notebook or desktop users).
    But if we’re going to get hung up on form factors, a mobile-first strategy should also take into consideration whatever devices are popular today, may not be for very long (re: Google Glass, the iWatch, etc.).

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