“Do not try and bend the spoon, that’s impossible. Instead, only try to realise the truth: There is no spoon. Then you will see it is not the spoon that bends, it is only yourself.” — Spoon Boy, The Matrix (1999)
Each year, new, spec-rich devices – watches, phones, phablets, tablets, large tablets, laptops, desktops, hybrids, wearables – churn through the market. As a result, the average consumer has become a digital omnivore consuming content in habitual patterns across a range of platforms and devices throughout the day.
- 81% of American adults use a computer at some point.
- 90% own a cell phone.
- 83% of smartphone owners never leave home without it.
- 32% own an e-reader.
- 42% own a tablet computer.
- 73% of smartphone owners also own a tablet.
- Tablets are most often used on the couch or bed.
- 65% of tablet owners use their tablet while watching television.
- More than nine in 10 of ExactTarget survey respondents say access to content “however they want it is somewhat or very important.”
“Mobile first,” or even the idea of “mobile,” no longer has any real meaning. I’m not sure there’s a meaningful difference between devices anymore, other than memory, power, and screen size. Even Web app versus native app can be a development consideration on a desktop operating system.
In earlier blog posts, I’ve discussed the personal network and ambient user experience as it relates to wearables. This conflation of personal devices is just the beginning.
Apple is betting on this with Continuity and Handoff. Google, too, with its desktop/laptop Chrome browser linking features of Google Now. Other companies — Dropbox, Evernote, LastPass, and others — have built businesses bridging screens via the cloud. It’s all about the what, why, and how at the right time – context, intent, and size.
This may seem like much ado for media publishers who are dealing with just text, images, and video – things that easily transcend device and contextual differences – and news sites that don’t require a lot of user interface interactivity. There’s actually a lot more than just that.
Most media sites also include events/things-to-do searches and record entry, contests with form entry, user registration, user profile management, commenting, newsletter and SMS signup, authentication, games, online advertising and classified entries, online subscription and account management, editorial data visualisation and interactive features, alternative story forms, social network integration, B2B online apps, premium advertising placements, etc.
These small-screen experiences and capabilities need to be considered from a design standpoint, and also the context in which the reader is likely to use them. Not just how involved must that form be, but should that even be an option on a phone?
As Intercom’s Paul Adams writes: “Focusing on what jobs your users are trying to do. Servicing those jobs where they happen. Servicing them with the right depth of product experience: maybe a glance on a watch is best, maybe a 40-inch screen dashboard view is best. Servicing them in a way that takes advantage of the situational context of use – no one is bringing their iMac to the beach, and no one is writing the board deck on their phone. So think about the screen best suited for input and the screen best suited for output.”
It’s not about expanding into the mobile platform of the moment. It’s not about long form or micro-publishing. It’s not even print or digital. It’s about understanding and appropriately serving the needs of your consumers on any given medium.