You can't scan a tech pub these days without finding at least one article about how mobile is changing everything. Just last week, CIO magazine declared that it's time for businesses to move from a Mobile-First to a Mobile-Only mindset. (for the record, we read the piece on a laptop). With mobile being thrown around like beads at Mardi Gras, it's time to stop and think:
Does the word mobile mean what we think it means?
According to Wikipedia, the defining characteristics of a mobile device are that they are small, have a touchscreen and/or miniature keyboard and weigh less than 2 pounds. So iPads, Kindles and Surface RTs are in; MacBooks Air and Chromebooks are out and the Windows Surface Pro, at 2 pounds on the money, is both mobile and immobile.
But here's where the trouble starts. Should businesses really be thinking about iPhones, Galaxy S3's and HTC First's in the same category as tablet computers?
No, they shouldn't.
The first reason is the technology. The tablet's bigger screen demands a different user experience from that of a smartphone. Responsive design can help rearrange elements, but websites and native apps really need to be optimized for the different types of usage that the different form factors and display sizes facilitate.
That's the second reason. People use tablets differently from the way they use smartphones. Yes, there's a lot of overlap, just as there is with laptops and desktops. But the differences are critical. Just look at this data from Nielsen on shopping habits, showing that smartphones are used much more frequently for out-of-home activities while nearly twice as many people use tablets to make actual purchases.
Here's some more data for consideration. Mobile devices account for more than 25% of all travel website traffic. But fully 62% of that traffic comes from iPads! Which means if you're a travel business optimizing your site for mobile and thinking hard about smartphones, you may be overweighting an audience that makes up less than 16% of your traffic.
When we say it's time to move beyond mobile, we mean that it's time to move beyond an overly simplistic understanding of digital behavior. What people call 'mobile' today lumps together devices, patterns and needs that are becoming increasingly distinct.
And it's not a matter of semantics. It's a matter of strategy. Addressing 'mobile' effectively requires multi-layered thinking and multiple complementary approaches to achieve business objectives. It's a more complex undertaking than the language the industry is using today indicates. But, given the unstoppable acceleration of smartphones, tablets and their usage, it's critical to success.