Device Usage A Question of Degree

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.

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Bob O'Donnell

Bob O’Donnell is the president and chief analyst of TECHnalysis Research, LLC a technology consulting and market research firm that provides strategic consulting and market research services to the technology industry and professional financial community. You can follow him on Twitter @bobodtech.

18 thoughts on “Device Usage A Question of Degree”

  1. The cross compatibility of data (including media) across devices is a miserable mess. My intuitive guess is that it’s fueled 85% by greed, 10% by incompetence, and 5% for technical reasons.

    Why no real MS Office compatibility across devices until very recently? Why no iTunes media compatibility beyond iOS, OSX, and Windows? Don’t even get me started on ebooks and their respective devices. Thank goodness for the Apps.

    Even on websites (thanks to MS, Apple, Adobe) it depends on the browser, OS, device, and manufacturer permission.

    The only substantive way to combat this is with open platforms (even if proprietary).

    1. Good points and I think your percentages are probably pretty close! I can understand your comments on open platforms, but part of me is starting to think that in this kind of multi-devicle, multi-platform world, that OS’s will eventually become irrelevant. (What?! Sacrilege! Yes, I know…) The point is, it will be about a layer of services that sit above the individual platforms that could start to actually homogenize those platforms and make their impact less relevant. Now, to be clear, I don’t think this will happen right away, but I absolutely think it’s a possibility that is worth considering.

      1. I think Apple will continue to provide a platform with the best user experience. They will continue to allow other services (Google, Facebook, Amazon, etc.) to tie into their platform, but those will only increase the relevance of iOS.

        Google services are mostly just as good on iOS as they are on Android. Facebook is best on iOS. Amazon has done well in degrading their services on iOS in favor of their own hardware, but it hasn’t done them much good. Most of the best services are available on iOS, but no Apple service is available except on iOS.

        The web has long been considered the equalizing horizontal layer that would level the computing playing field. That certainly was part of the homogenization of the Windows PC industry, but it did not impact Macs. Why? Because Apple was able to provide a superior experience for which people were willing to pay a premium. I don’t think this will change. At least one mobile OS will still be very relevant.

        1. While I understand your comment and agree with it to some degree, Apple does face some potential risk if they completely avoid offering their services on other platforms. Though it may not always appear that way, data I have generated and seen others share shows that most people who own Apple devices don’t own all Apple devices. The vast majority of even Apple owners have multiple devices with multiple OS’s, so in a sense, Apple is even hurting it’s own customers by not offering services across multiple platforms.

          1. My guess would be that “Apple owners with multiple OS’s” means mostly “iOS + Windows”. In that case, Apple has iTunes for Windows, supports the email and calendaring standards as well as MS-Exchange, and also has a web version of iWork. It seems that Apple covers Windows owners pretty well, and with Office for iOS, even more so going forward.

            The remaining issue is “iPad + Android smartphone” users. Here Apple could provide iTunes for Android, but most likely, the would recommend an iPod.

            I agree to “Apple does face some potential risk if they completely avoid offering their services on other platforms”, but that is not what Apple is doing with regards to Windows. As for Android compatibility, I think that it is much less of an issue.

          2. Yes, there is always risk some users may become dissatisfied. But Tim Cook often cites customer satisfaction numbers that strongly suggest that a large percentage of Apple’s customers are very satisfied. Apple also continues to attract new users into their ecosystem. They have a user base approaching 1 billion with unparalleled customer retention rates. Any risk seems pretty low.

            That said, I don’t think Apple philosophically rejects expanding their services to other platforms. The prime example would be iTunes on Windows. If I recall correctly, they also stated intentions to make FaceTime cross-platform since it would benefit from universal adoption. I think pending lawsuits have delayed that possibility.

            There’s a delicate balance that Apple is trying to achieve. The primary goal is to provide the best possible user experience. Many times that’s much more difficult if they make a service cross-platform. It’s not easy to build a great cross-platform experience. iTunes on Windows is terrible, but they had to build it to sell iPods. I don’t think they want to do that again unless they absolutely have no choice.

            As long as Apple continues to create devices that people love to use, service providers old & new will want to work with Apple in order to tap into that valuable user base. Just as developers continue to target iOS first despite dominant Android market share, other horizontal service providers will do the same.

  2. I would give Google a lot more credit in this space than Apple or Microsoft. Sure, it is how they make their money, but in terms of cross-device access and compatibility I think the Google services are light years ahead of the rest.

    1. Oh, really??? I tried to open a GJunk doc. just to view it. It was sent by someone from my church. Not on my iMac, iPad nor iPhone could I open it. So much for cross-device access. I CAN open all MS docs on said devices though. Google is no chump, they silo just like the rest of the players only they don’t play well with others in my humble opinion.

    2. Interesting that you should say that. I was originally going to make a comment in the article on how I saw Microsoft actually being the most aggressive in starting to tackle this problem (that is, based on their most recent moves), but I intentionally left it out because I wanted to see what commenters like yourself would have to say. My guess is we may see a variety of different viewpoints on this. But, regardless, no matter whom you side with, there’s still a long way to go to get real progress in this area.

    3. One thing MS already handles better than Google on my preliminary testing of Office365 and OneDrive. It is a lot easier to juggle multiple accounts.


      1. On Office365, I don’t know whether to attribute my satisfactionit being that good, or whether I’m just accustomed to that bad! 🙂

    4. I’ve thought about this too, but judge Google services beyond search to be mediocre at best – which is not to say that everyone else has this figured out, but that many of the items in the Google wheelhouse are clunky and ungraceful at best (Gmail, Drive, Calendar). They work. They are free. They just aren’t great experiences, and I’ve watched my own usage of them decline as alternatives come on board.

      Maps is a great example – lots of data, horrible presentation (especially on mobile). I wind up using Apple Maps simply to avoid Google Maps, data gaps be damned. I wind up using OneDrive instead of Google Drive because the confusion that ensues when email links are sent is just more than I want to deal with; I love explaining to someone that SOME of the stuff in a Drive folder is GDocs, and SOME are “regular” files that open in apps. Eyeballs glaze, and the next words are always “just email it to me”.

      Google scales big, but they appear to be still be very much wed to the browser. Until that collapses, I don’t see them producing quality experiences in productivity.

      1. This question frequently gets asked recently… “Is Google getting better at what Apple is good at, faster than Apple is getting better at what Google is good at?”
        Interesting question.

        1. Google is improving in UI design faster than Apple is improving in cloud services. That would help Samsung & others if they didn’t mess up stock Android with crap. It’s definitely not helping Google sell Nexus devices despite the rave reviews.

          Apple, on the other hand, gets criticized severely by even their fans for not “getting” the cloud. But the reality is that the average Apple user thinks those services work just fine. In any case, the services shortcomings are not enough to turn away the otherwise very happy user base.

          I personally love the fact that all these companies are trying to do better than the others. Competition is good for us consumers. Neither iOS or Android are going away anytime soon. Hopefully their rivalry will keep them pushing the envelope so they don’t get caught unawares by “the next big thing”.

  3. “Wouldn’t it be nice for example, if any type of process I start on one device could be seamlessly continued on another?”

    iWork and iCloud does that really really well; been doing exactly that for the past couple of years already 🙂

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