As often happens with new technologies, with time unique ways of usage emerge that haven’t been thought of when inventing the technology (think Internet).
The IBM Simon was the first phone with a touchscreen. That was 1992. Only with the iPhone smartphones became more popular and mainstream.
The first iPhone was released in 2007. That’s less than 10 years ago.
What do we use our phones for?
Time has passed, technology advanced and smartphones have become an essential part of everyday life. And with that clearer patterns of when and especially for what we use our mobile have emerged:
Kill time = browse
Search = respond to a specific question or need (local information)
Communicate = email, update status/check in, share info, coordinate with others
Transact = urgent need
When looking at the types of apps that are competing for mobile users’ attention spans, social networking and search still rule. Entertainment viewing (videos, movies) and gaming apps are on the rising.
Complex tasks, no thanks
Complex tasks are rarely performed on mobile. To explain why we can look at information theory:
One of the ideas coming from information theory is that communication systems are made of modules connected through limited-capacity communication channels. The basic concept in information theory is the communication system.
A communication system comprises:
- Two modules: an information source and a destination.
- A communication channel that transmits information from the source to the destination.
We could say that the communication channel “smartphone” is to narrow for certain tasks. As a consequence users prefer performing easy tasks on this device.
The communication channel has a certain capacity that limits the amount of information that can be transmitted from source to destination. It also dictates the content of the communication. A mobile phone is a communication channel with different limitations (screen size, input, difficulties with touch). These limitations influence what kind and how the information is transmitted.
Usage patterns for the different devices
What we do: everything
Pcs are used at home, when sitting at the desk. We are focused, not easily distracted and the information channel (Pc) gives us the possibility to also perform complex tasks.
What we do: entertainment and information consumption
79% of us use our tablet at home when we are relaxed and not in a hurry. We mostly use them to watch videos or movies and to read.
What we do: communicating and finding information
We use our phones everywhere. Information search related to a certain location and communication are the most frequent tasks we perform. Also, people use specific apps for just one task.
On mobile, I would say that the best advice is to keep it simple: “If in doubt, leave it out”! People are not using mobile for complex tasks and usually wait until they get their hands on a PC.
However, tasks that were a challenge in the past have been embraced by mobile users because they are now easier to perform. Booking a flight or a hotel has become a very straight forward and easy thing to do (thanks to hotel.com and the like). Online shopping has gone through the same transformation and is picking up on mobile.
All of the 3 devices (Pc, tablet, phone) have their unique characteristics. People have understood this intuitively and adapted specific and different usages for each of them which influences (or should influence) the way we design mobile experiences.