Over the past few years, we’ve witnessed the rapid adoption of the mobile platform as the personal information device of choice. According to Pew Research Center, as of February 2013, 31% of American adults had a tablet and 45% had a smartphone. Strategy Analytics said that for Q4 2012, smartphone sales grew 38% annually. They also said that for the same period, tablet sales grew 67%.
The End of The PC Era? Well, Not Exactly
IDC expects more US consumers to be accessing the Internet via mobile devices than PCs for the first time in 2015. So with consumer preference shifting, it would seem that many of us might opt for that latest tablet or smartphone, instead of sticking to that habitual pattern of upgrading our PC every so many years. However, even with this accelerated adoption of mobile devices, data suggest that PC sales have not fallen nearly as quickly as you might expect. IDC found that worldwide, PC sales fell 6.4% in Q4 2012. This does indicate a decline for PCs, but a slow one. So why are we still sticking to our old friend, Mr. PC?
Mobile for This Task, PC for that Task
Looking deeper into the “Pew Internet: Mobile” report, with regards to smartphone usage for information consumption, we see that people engage more in social media, weather reports and less complicated Internet tasks on smartphones than on the PC. This is confirmed by the GfK Group report on US consumer web activity on smartphones versus PCs, July 2012. What I found more intriguing in this report is that aside from casual internet pastimes such as social media, email, video and blogging, there is a specific class of “other” web activities, that mobile users spend only 9% of their time engaged in, whereas this accounts for 20% of the time for PC users.
What does all this mean? It indicates that there are still certain web activities that consumers still prefer performing on the PC.
Mobile’s Challenge: Smart, Fast, but Small
The reason why consumers are juggling tasks between different mobile devices and PCs primarily has to do with smaller screen real estate on the mobile device. Often, complex tasks are difficult to implement and in depth information is difficult to convey on small screen devices. The challenge for making mobile devices more pervasive as a true personal assistant with full customer support functionality is to provide better utility beyond handling social activities. The industry as a whole will need to invest more thought into how we translate what we do now on PCs onto the mobile device, without losing those same capabilities.
Example: Mobile Apps from Financial Services Companies
This first wave of mobile financial services apps for example only provides a subset of capabilities. If I want to perform more complex tasks or get more complex information such as advanced stock performance data and graphs, detailed company information and so on, I need to go to a PC to gain access to the full realm of capabilities that are available only on the PC. I only have capability to perform basic operations from the mobile application and retrieve basic information. Also, there is very little customer support information delivered with the application.
Moving Toward a Better Mobile Customer Experience
So how does all this translate into delivering a richer online experience for your customers? There a few different approaches – some better than others – that we’ll examine below.
For starters, with text-to-speech capabilities, we can provide information on mobile devices in a way that is more easily consumable and without being specifically encroached upon by screen limitations. In an article in Forbes regarding audio books, Arthur Graesser, a professor at the University of Memphis says that “the half life for listening is much longer than for reading”. So we are able to retain more heard information, than read information. However, being able to read allows us to revisit detailed concepts, and obtain context from surrounding text. So even with information delivered in spoken form, while we can retain more, we still need to structure the information for the delivery channel. For example, with text we can use spacing and layout to emphasize a list of points. With the spoken form, you need to make the points you are making explicit through audio cues. Coupled with this, the content being delivered also has to be tailored to deal with limitations in text-to-speech technology such as pronunciation quirks and correct enunciation of acronyms, to name a few.
This means that at least with the current text-to-speech capability available on mobile devices, we can’t just re-use the same text we push out through the web channel. We need to tailor the informational messages to make the best use of the text-to-speech medium and to recognize the differences and limitations in the way the user can consume that information through that medium. We advise our own clients using this same principle, when they are looking to roll out online self-service solutions that can be accessible from web, mobile and social media channels.
So by thoughtfully addressing these issues, we will be able to make the mobile device a useful personal tool beyond social media and entertainment, and allow greater consumption of on-line services while on the go.