Video Didn’t Kill the Radio Star, it isn’t Desktop vs. Mobile

I recently did a webinar as a part of an advertising agency training program, and I was asked a question that I have heard a number of times – so what will the future hold – mobile web or computer based web.

While I may not be the biggest mobile marketing expert I have had the pleasure of speaking about mobile marketing and listening to some of the smartest people in the mobile space talk about it, and there are some trends that you can see emerging.

We seem to like to frame questions like this as “either, or”, when really, that isn’t appropriate.  The reality is that there will probably be times when a computer is best, and times when a mobile device like a tablet or mobile phone works best.

When television came around, radio didn’t go away.  If you think about it, TV does everything that radio does with an audio broadcast, plus it adds the visual.

Radio adapted to do what it does best – music and talk shows – and TV took over with what it does best – telling stories.  There is space for both.  They each modified their programming to focus on what they can deliver best.  Sure radio probably declined, but importantly they adapted their programming from story-telling to music and discussion.

The key message here is that there will probably be a place for both mobile web and traditional computer web but they will be used differently.

Here are some trends in mobile consumption that help show why and how each experience is different.

Mobile is Short Snacking Sessions vs. PC Based Meals

Mobile users tend to pop-in on their devices multiple times for short sessions throughout the day.  It is like the difference between a snack and a meal.

This means that tasks that take longer will probably still be completed from a PC.  Mobile web sessions are great for killing 5 minutes here and there, or potentially a long commute, but in most cases in-depth tasks that require full attention and focus will still be completed from a traditional PC environment.

Size Does Matter

Yup, I said it.  Size matters.  Seriously.

The smaller screen size of mobile devices will continue to be a barrier for some computing tasks.  Think about things like writing blog posts where I have multiple windows open and a lot of information on my screen.  I’m currently using a 29 inch monitor and it seems too small.

Tasks and activities that require a lot of viewing space will continue to be best completed on a traditional computer.

Consider the task, and ask yourself which environment makes the most sense.  For many tasks it is a combination.  For example, I want to enter my mileage or expenses into my accounting program on-the-go from a mobile device, but when I am reconciling at the end of the month I want a big computer screen.

Power will Stay with the Desktop

It will take a long while before affordable mobile devices have the storage and computing power that PCs have.  Think about it – the 32 gig iphone was a big deal.  That device only holds a small fraction of my music collection.

Tasks that require storage or computing power (like photoshop or illustrator) will continue to require the horsepower of a PC.  Sure, with the cloud many of these things are shifting to become web-based – you can now get web based storage and accounting programs, making all of the fancy hardware on your PC less relevant – but it will take a while before we all actually get there and adopt the changes.

Wireless Infrastructure Needs to Improve

The technology empowering mobile devices has rapidly been changing how we use them, but the infrastructure still has a long way to go.

Almost any time you are at a major event – sporting event, sxsw, even big concerts – you can have outages on your phone due to network overages.  4g networks are only just starting to roll out in major cities in the US.

In order for mobile to get to the next level the infrastructure needs to be improved so that it can handle all of the web traffic that mobile users want and expect.

In Canada you still can’t get unlimited data plans (yes, seriously).  This stuff takes time.  And money.

What trends are you seeing?  Where do you think mobile will be in the future?