The Mobility Myth

on April 15, 2014

The near constant discussion of mobility and various types of mobile computing can easily give people the impression nobody cares about or uses anything but tablets, smartphones and notebooks. In reality however, that viewpoint couldn’t be further from the truth, especially when it comes to business use of various computing devices.[pullquote]On a regular, day-to-day basis, the device that doesn’t just lead but dominates the usage of US business employees is the good ol’ desktop PC. Yes, even today.”[/pullquote]

On a regular, day-to-day basis, the device that doesn’t just lead but dominates the usage of US business employees is the good ol’ desktop PC. Yes, even today. In fact, just last week my firm TECHnalysis Research completed a survey of 750 people employed across three company sizes: small (10-99 employees); medium (100-999) and large (1,000+). The group consisted of a mix of employees (150 per company size) and IT decision makers (100 per company size). The primary purpose of the study was a pulse check on the current state of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) programs—more details on that in next week’s column—but part of the survey questionnaire also covered basic issues around what devices people used to do their work.

Both employees and IT decision makers were asked to select from a list of choices which devices they or the employees at their companies used to do any aspect of work related to their jobs. The results, as shown in the chart below, may be somewhat surprising.

BYOD Devices Used Chart

© 2014, TECHnalysis Research, LLC

Though the numbers differ between the two groups, both employees and IT decision makers put company purchased desktop PCs as the most commonly used devices in their organizations. For employees, personally purchased smartphones were a reasonably close second, while IT department representatives thought those were a distant third and company-purchased notebooks were second. Interestingly, IT decision makers believed personally purchased tablets were in higher use than employees actually said—and by a decent margin. Apparently, IT has bought into the myth of the tablet’s enormous role in business even more than the IT press has led them to believe.

And let’s not forget this data comes from the US—the most mobile-focused and tablet-friendly market in the entire world. If you were to ask these questions to employees and IT folks in companies around the world, the results would be even more lopsided towards PCs and desktops in particular.

But the story for PCs in business gets even better. Employee respondents were then asked to divide their total work time across the list of available devices—in other words, not only what they use, but how often they use it. These results, which represent the average percentage of the work day each device is used across a sample of 450 employees, are telling.

Overall Device Usage Chart

© 2014, TECHnalysis Research, LLC

Here, the work purchased desktop PC, and PCs overall, absolutely dominate. Even if you add together both personal and work purchased tablets and 2-in-1 devices (which are arguably PCs anyway), the total time spent on tablets is only 9% on average, with smartphones taking up another 13.3%. The remaining 77.7% is spent working on PCs, with desktops representing just over 50% of all time spent on computing devices. While arguably that number is down from 100%, it’s still a staggeringly lopsided battle that shows the PC is far from dead in business environments and the potential fear of tablet cannibalization on business PCs was (and still is) dramatically overblown.

Just to put a cherry on top of this week’s PC cake, the survey also asked IT decision makers about their plans for future internal application development by both device type and platform. The final option in each case was to say the company was not currently planning to develop applications for a given device type. The results? Only 7% of respondents said they were not planning to build any new PC applications, but 12% said they had no new plans for smartphone applications, and 13% said they had no new plans for tablet applications.

To be clear, mobility and mobile devices are a critical part of today’s business computing landscape. But the level of coverage and focus they receive is clearly out of line with the frequency of their actual usage. That’s a point that’s easy to forget, but definitely worth remembering.