The Dawning of High Mobility

Over the past few months, I have been running a series of experiments analyzing my own time spent using computers. Primarily, I’ve been tracking the amount of time I spend per day on my Mac and on my iPhone. I’ve started doing this because of some assumptions I’ve had about the future. Mainly, that the smartphone is the primary computing device for billions of people, including those in markets where PC penetration is high.

I’ve studied the market for mobile computing for the better part of the past 15 years I’ve been an industry analyst. We knew early in the 2000s that notebooks were key for PCs to penetrate consumer markets due to consumers’ desires to not be stuck at a desk. The PC experience needed to move beyond the desk and the notebook was the solution. This signaled the first shift to “high mobility computing”. But as I’ve studied and observed how consumer behavior has been evolving in an era of computing which includes tablets and smartphones, we are observing a distinct shift away from traditional PCs. All of this is centered on the view that consumers are highly mobile.

In my day to day work routine, I’ve noticed similar patterns. I don’t have the type of job that requires me to sit at a desk all day to work. I spend a great deal of time out meeting with clients, conducting field research, giving presentations, and taking meetings that extend my knowledge. Once devices like the iPad and now, specifically, the larger screen iPhone 6 Plus, entered my life, I noticed a distinct drop in how much time I spend with my Mac. The iPad allowed me to not bring my Mac to many meetings and still be productive. The iPad 6 Plus has made it so I don’t even need to bring my iPad to still be highly productive in the field. My goal was to quantify this.

I’ve been using an app on my iPhone called Moments which tracks how much time I use my phone during the day. I’ve also been tracking my Mac usage through an app called Time Sink. My average time per week spent using my iPhone is two hours and 53 minutes per day. My average weekly time spent using my Mac is two hours and 14 minutes per day. What I had not fully internalized before was how little I used my PC some days. When I have a report or column to work on, or a data model to update, or new research to pour through, my daily usage is quite high. But that is not every day of the week. Some days I’d use my Mac as little as 30 minutes. Quantifying this was insightful. Although I’d felt I was using my iPhone disproportionate compared to my Mac on a weekly basis, actually seeing data on how little I use my PC/Mac some days was quite interesting.

Perhaps this is why our data shows some interesting global statistics around time spent on a PC vs. a smartphone in every major market we study.


As you can see, in each region, the time spent, in hours, on smartphones is continuing to increase while the time spent with PCs is either flat or in some cases declining. ((This is specific data to people who own both a PC and a smartphone)). This emphasizes another observation being floated that the PC is increasingly becoming just a work/productivity device. The follow-up comment to this one is how the number of people who need a PC to do work is significantly smaller than those who don’t.

This experiment started with an enterprise or mobile worker emphasis. I know myself to be a high mobility worker but what it also showed me is how most consumers can be described as high mobility as well. A PC is great when you can sit down to use it. For many their life is not spent at a desk. The shift from desktop to high-mobility solutions is where computers, software, and services, are all adapting to the mobile era. This is the central reason I believe we are seeing a behavioural shift in the market of time away from traditional PCs to highly mobile ones.

Given there are significantly more highly mobile consumers, the software and business opportunity is changing as well. In many countries, commerce from mobile devices is catching up with that from PCs. Banks are continually highlighting an increase in the number of mobile banking transactions catching up with those from a PC.

All of this is happening under our noses in developed markets where PC penetration is high. This shift is still happening due to the convenience and necessity of high mobility computing. What is key is to understand the opportunity is shifting in nearly every consumer category from the desktop internet to the mobile internet. At a conference I spoke at last week I said, “The mobile internet is the true consumer internet. Business, commerce, banking, searching, discovering, and all kinds of consumer opportunities are shifting to mobile. Outside of some hardware and productivity software, there is little happening that is interesting and exclusive to the desktop or notebook computer. The world is embracing this shift because the opportunity is significantly larger. The time spent observation signals the changing of the times to our mobile future. Hundreds of millions of people live highly mobile lives and now computing can as well.”

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Ben Bajarin

Ben Bajarin is a Principal Analyst and the head of primary research at Creative Strategies, Inc - An industry analysis, market intelligence and research firm located in Silicon Valley. His primary focus is consumer technology and market trend research and he is responsible for studying over 30 countries. Full Bio

10 thoughts on “The Dawning of High Mobility”

  1. Ben

    I’d be interested to hear how your iPhone 6 Plus has impacted on the use of your other mobile iDevices. Not so much your Mac (I’m assuming you’re referring to a desktop – although you might be referring to you MacBook), but your iPad.

    I don’t think it’s a fair comparison to look at you Mac usage compared to your iPhone (because of the nation of a desktop – it can only be used in one place), but it’s it’s very relevant to compare iPhone usage to iPad usage.

    I’ve found my iPad Mini has now been relegated to a ‘bedside Kindle’…its use has been squeezed out by my iPad Air (web browser, emailer, video consumer) and my iPhone 6 Plus (same usage, but more mobile-friendly).

    Personally, I think the iPhone 6 Plus won’t kill off the iPad Mini, but it will certainly abuse it’s position as Apple’s most mobile-friendly computing device.

    1. Couple additional thoughts. Firstly, yes my iPad has been designated as a dedicated reading device, and my presentation tool. It is hands down the best reading device I own, and I read a lot, so its has its place. But for all full mobility stuff the iPhone 6P is the primary.

      Secondly, while I agree comparing the two is unfair in commercial markets, the broader point I was making was about consumer markets. My wife, for example, hardly touches her Mac anymore. She can do most our banking and finances from mobile (this used to be all she really used her PC for). Secretly I tracked her Mac usage as well during this time period. Shockingly little use, and she agreed to do the moment tracking also on her iPhone. Shockingly high. I’d almost put her in the mobile only category and I believe many consumers are gravitating this way.

      There is a point about the PC here, namely, that this is the dynamic it is up against. I truly believe the PC is in a fight for relevancy in consumer markets as they move more mobile only.

      1. I call the iPhone 6 Plus the ‘iPad Nano’. I’m waiting for a larger screen iPad, that would fit my use cases even better than my current iPad 2. That said, my iPad 2 has to stop working first. It’s as good as the day I bought it, four years ago. I can’t justify replacing it yet, I’m still getting tons of use and value out of it. My guess is I’ll replace it at some point in late 2016.

        1. We upgraded from Ipad 2 to Ipad air last fall only because my spouse was getting far too many low-memory crashes on her ipad 2. She pushes it hard, especially with her playing of MMO strategy browser games like Illyriad and Travian.

          The Air 2 was tempting but I didn’t want to sacrifice some battery life for an unnecessary thickness reduction. Cost was also an issue, so we went with last year’s model.

          1. We’re getting to that same point, encountering the odd app that needs more ‘juice’ to work properly. We have six iPad 2s, four teenagers, wife, and mine (which is business use mostly). My wife still uses an iPhone 4S, so she’s just about ready to upgrade to likely an iPhone 6 Plus (since she uses a bag/purse anyway). It’ll be interesting to see how that affects iPad use. The kids want either a larger screen iPad with more horsepower or a MacBook Air. I think it will depend on jobs-to-be-done and available apps. The line between Air and iPad is probably going to blur even more in the next year or so.

            I’m trying to sell the kids on the idea of a shared iMac, but personal and mobility are high on their priority list.

      2. Ben

        Yes – I see where you’re coming from. It IS fair to pit my iMac against my 6P because there are a number of capabilities my phone has that trumps my desktop. For instance, I default to my 6P whenever I want to access my bank account because the banking app I have is just ‘better’ than going to my bank’s website.

        My guess is is that each device I use will ‘the best for a specific function’.

        My iMac will always be the workhorse for managing my iTunes library.

        My iPad Air will be my primary media consumer.

        My iPad Mini will be my Kindle

        My iPhone will be my primary mobile solution.

        My iPod Touch will be my gym companion.

        My iPod Shuffle will be the little square silver thing that sits on my desk reminding me that i really, really don’t need an iPod Shuffle.

      3. I’ve been experimenting with larger and larger phones… my current 7″ only shines for video (watching is a pleasure when it’s only a compromise on smaller screens, I’m just off a long train ride, I didn’t even bother to take my tablet out to catch up on Dr Who season 8 ^^), and the very occasional Office work when I’ve really messed up (no PC nor tablet in sight, yet a keyboard and mouse available). For reading, my sweet spot is 6-6.5″ inches (I’ve had 4.3″, 5.1″ and 6″).
        Aside from size, I’m finding apps also make a difference: there’s a bunch a Android apps that are significantly better than my Windows desktop’s counterparts: RSS (feedly’s web client is meh), mail (Windows mail often locks up, at least its IMAP routines are not multithreaded), even plain old web sites are often more pleasant on my phone (a lot cleaner layout, fewer ads)

  2. In the highly mobile entertainment industry I am seeing fewer laptops and more iPads. (I would say tablets, but that just isn’t the case).And more people I talk to are either ditching the PC altogether or using desktops for audio and video recording/editing, or (as in my case) CAD.

    Arts admins are different, but still a lack of laptops. Mostly smartphone/desktop combos.


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