The Devices of Our Lives

One of the single most important observations of the post-PC era has been how humans now distribute their time among many digital screens. During the age of the PC, there were primarily two screens in a consumer’s life they looked at for long periods of time — the TV and the PC. Those were simpler times for everyone. The TV was the primary entertainment screen and the PC was the primary productivity screen. With the advent of smartphones and tablets, both the TV and the PC had their primary roles challenged. Entertainment could now be on any number of screens. Similarly, productivity could now be done on any number of screens.

This fundamental shift in time is one based solely on convenience. Certainly, a large 50″ HDTV is likely the best place to watch movies or TV for long periods of time. However, it is not always the most convenient screen to do so. The PC is also the best place to crank out many long emails. However, it is not always the most convenient screen to do so. What the post-PC era has brought us are any number of new ways (screens) to fulfill the technological jobs in our lives. Now, it is up to us to decide the solution that works best for us.

This is what makes the market landscape so fascinating. There will be a great deal of variety for end users when it comes to their computing solutions. How many screens will depend entirely on the needs of the person and the jobs they need fulfilled. Today, we have a decent idea of the size of the markets for these different screens. PCs are in use by a little over a billion people. Tablets are in use by than less than 500m people. Smartphones are used by about two billion people. PC growth remains flat to declining. Tablet growth has slowed dramatically but is still growing slightly. Smartphones still have the most growth of any screen. We know smartphones are the one primary computer four billion plus humans will own some day. For the time being, it seems tablets and PCs have normalized and are not growing or declining steeply in any direction. For these three categories it seems the dust has settled and we have a somewhat firm understanding of what the next few years will hold.

For most people on the planet, the smartphone is central. The PC used to be the center of consumer’s digital lives and now it is the smartphone. Each smart screen other than the smartphone they choose to own flows from the smartphone. Consumers are getting savvy about this. They are starting to understand how their time is shifting and beginning to think through the screens in their lives — the ones they need and the ones they don’t.

What is interesting about all the screens in our lives is how they demand attention. While the global average total time spent per day on a smartphone is now over two hours, those two hours are the accumulation of many shorter interactions with a smartphone every day. Data from an observational study I did observed a range of tasks done by people with their smartphones and revealed the average session time of a US consumer was 2.5 minutes. We similarly studied session times based on tasks and found that, depending on the task (checking email, using social networking, reading the news, checking the weather, etc.), it varied the amount of time per session. However, consumers rarely felt incentivized to turn their phone on, launch an app and do just that one task. More often than not, once they turned their phone on, they started with one task then moved to a few others, making the average time much higher per engagement. My overall takeaway from this emphasized my theory about how engaging and immersive each screen in our life is. This is why I think the potential of the smartwatch is interesting.

While time has been shifting from PC to smartphones, many central tasks remain. People still sit in front of their PCs for hours at a time, but we found many consumer simultaneously use their smartphone while doing so. The reason for this is certain tasks are more efficient on the smartphone. Looking at the weather, checking stocks, even viewing a social network. Many consumers admit to doing these types of tasks while sitting at work in front of their PCs. The reason? Convenience.

Now apply this to the smartwatch. My thesis going into studying smartwatches over the next few years will be based on this convenience of information display and micro-interactions which we observed to some degree as a dynamic between PCs and smartphones. The always visible or easily and quickly accessible smart screen on your wrist may add a dimension that did not exist before. A screen which is not designed to suck us in for 2.5 minutes or longer.

The smartwatch fits into the overall post-PC theme. It will be one of many digital screens that exist as an option for consumers to put together a solution of smart screens that work best for them. Each screen has a role to play, even if that role evolves over time.

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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

6 thoughts on “The Devices of Our Lives”

  1. One of my doubts about smartwatches is that actually using one is equally or even more disruptive than using a smartphone:
    – a smaller screen is less glanceable, requiring more attention (and for old Magoo-ish me, heavy squinting and hunching over ^^).
    – you need to rotate one wrist, pull up your sleeve, and use the other hand to interact, thus using up both hands. Smartphones mostly require one hand, smartglasses 0 or 1 (I assume one can discreetly whisper to glasses even in public places, while talking to a smartwatch would require gesticulating them up to your mouth and/or being loud… and looking inordinately start-trekky)
    – they’re not really worth putting up on a stand next to your PC screens, like I do with my phone and tablet. Taking a watch off actually sounds like the opposite of what’s intended… in the end, they’re less versatile and situation-adaptive than phones.

    1. “a smaller screen is less glanceable, requiring more attention (and for old Magoo-ish me, heavy squinting and hunching over ^^).”

      Yeah. Watches can’t be read at a glance. You have to hunch over and stare at them. Who came up with this wristwatch idea, anyway? What a dummy.

        1. Hey, don’t take it so personally. We all have our cross to bear. If you’ve been reading my posts I (happily) have a “monkey on my back”!

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