Device Usage A Question of Degree

on May 6, 2014

The seemingly incessant discussions about which device is “winning” the battle for the hearts and minds of users seem to ignore an important, if not particularly helpful, fact: they all are winning to various degrees. Generally speaking, people tend to use multiple devices, sometimes even for the same task. Of course, it depends on what devices they actually own, but people who have regular access to PCs, tablets and smartphones—like many individuals in the US—are likely to use PCs, tablets and smartphones.

However, the amount they use each device does vary and in most cases, by a relatively large amount. Here, of course, is where the nearly religious debates about the superiority of tablets over PCs, or smartphones over tablets, or “phablets” versus everything else, will continue to rage. But regardless of what group (or groups) people tend to fall into on these discussions, the fact people use multiple devices has important implications for both the hardware and the applications and services running on those devices.

Building devices, applications and services that are not just able to connect to and work with other devices (and services) but are actually optimized to do so is an important distinction many companies seem to either ignore or pay little attention to. Wouldn’t it be nice for example, if any type of process I start on one device could be seamlessly continued on another?

The situation is complicated when we start to consider the different platforms all of these devices run. In the recent BYOD survey my firm conducted of 750 workers in the US, 450 of whom were employees at small, medium and large companies, we asked about the platforms they used on their devices. The results confirmed my expectations: the most popular PC platform in use was Windows by a large margin, the most popular tablet OS was iOS and the most common smartphone platform was—you guessed it—Android. (FYI, on both tablets and smartphones, the leading platforms had just over 50% of the total.) Extrapolating that data means there are lots of people with devices running three different platforms, from three different companies. Yet we’ve seen few efforts from any of those vendors to even acknowledge this reality, let alone incorporate it into their products and services to try and make them better.[pullquote]There are lots of people with devices running three different platforms, from three different companies. Yet we’ve seen few efforts from any of those vendors to even acknowledge this reality.”[/pullquote]

The “right” device also depends on what people are trying to achieve. But even here, crossover between devices is greater than many are willing to acknowledge. Think about something as universal as email for example. We can all certainly read email on whatever screen happens to be convenient, but when it comes to responding, the device on which we choose to compose our missives is often strongly influenced by the amount we need to write. A quick short response can be done on a small phone screen, a slightly longer reply on a tablet but a longer discussion almost always falls to a PC with a full sized keyboard and larger screen. So, all the devices are used for the same task, but to different degrees. It’s not just email. For example, watching videos of different lengths—generally the longer the video, the larger the screen. Or researching information on various topics—the deeper the dive, the greater the need for multiple simultaneously open windows, etc. Many tasks are divided across our different available devices.

A select group of software vendors and services providers have started to fully embrace this multi-device, multi-platform reality, but I would argue there’s still a long way to go. As new types of devices — smart TVs, connected cars and wearables — start to play a larger role in people’s lives and as our dependence on the services that empower these devices continues to grow, the need to create products and services that embrace the diversity of the device landscape will become essential for future success.