In one of the more hyperbolic statements I’ve seen in a while, TechRepublic Editor in Chief Jason Hiner writes, “Re-think everything for mobile or you’re toast.”
In case that didn’t quite make the point, TechRepublic conveniently prefaces the article with the takeaway that “Mobile devices are about to dwarf computers and the mobile web will have to take off the training wheels.
To prove his point, Hiner references the increase in unit sales of smart phones, which is projected to have surpassed the total total unit sales of PCs in 2011. He then goes on to reference Gartner sales projections over the next few years to arrive at the conclusion that there are going to be more devices that can access the Web via mobile device than via PC.
I find this to be a bit thin for a number of reasons. First, from a purely commercial perspective, smart phones are a new product with a lower ASP (average selling price) than PC’s and a shorter shelf life. I’ve personally gone through three smart phones in the past two years, a period in which I’ve gone through 2 PCs. Purely based off anecdotal experience, I’d say that the typical person will probably purchase two smart phones for every one PC they purchase. Furthermore, smart phones are relatively new to the market and if anything, are simply displacing dumb phones (I don’t know if anyone uses this term but I like it). Comparing matriculation in one market (mobile) to incremental purchases in another (PCs) is sort of methodologically flawed.
Second, just because smart phones are able to access the Web doesn’t mean that people will necessarily use them to access the Web and to abstract that potential automatically translates to actualization is pretty weak. In this particular case, it romanticizes the potential of smart phones to access the Web, unfettered from any sort of physical limitations.
If we bring physicality back into the discussion, we draw a few important conclusions.
First, that there are advantages to being stationary. I may be able to flip through recent headlines while waiting for my Americano at Starbucks but to do any real work or anything that requires concentration, I’m going to go the office and sit at my desk. Even for e-mail, I can always tell when someone is writing to me from a mobile device because their IQ drops 30% in the e-mail. I write all of my important e-mails, seated at my desk where the Hollywood Boulevard hobo can’t read over my shoulder.
Second, content delivered via smart phone is hard as f- to consume visually. You’re never going to tell me that I’m better off consuming anything that is delivered via the Web (except maybe a Tweet or an SMS) via a 4″ screen versus a 17” screen. This has nothing to do with mobile versus PC, this has everything to do with the size of a display (which I suppose has everything to do with mobile versus PC).
Finally, the functionality of anything delivered via a native mobile app versus the Web are always going to be scaled back. Again, this has to do with the very real physical limitations imposed by the technology itself. There is certainly a time and a place for a good native mobile app. Let’s say I’m wandering around and want to find somewhere good to eat. Nothing beats a good mobile app (I personally use Yelp) that is going to tell me the best places near me. That being said, if I really want to find somewhere awesome to eat for a special occasion, I’m going to probably sit at my desk and do a bit of research.
The experience of accessing the Web doesn’t happen in isolation; it happens contextually. People choose a specific environment to engage in certain types of activities, usually for good reason. There are reasons why libraries, offices and coffee shops exist.
I’m not saying for one second that mobile isn’t fundamentally changing the way that people live and work. That would be ignorant and naive. What I am saying is that the notion that there is going to be some sort of technological eclipse where mobile becomes the standard and PC’s fade into the background is not only a fallacy, it actually ignores most of the fundamental concepts behind how technology works in society.