Anyone Who Believes In ‘Mobile First’ Needs To Look At This Photo

For the last year or so, the digital industry has convinced itself that the traditional Internet is going away and that the future is all about mobile.

And the industry is right about one thing: Mobile is certainly where the growth is.

There are still about 5 billion “feature phones” in the world, and all of them will eventually be smartphones. And mobile tablet sales are growing like crazy.

The growth of mobile is also extending “digital prime time” and allowing everyone to stay connected during their commutes, weekends, workouts, and bedtimes. That’s very helpful for content, communications, and commerce companies that orient themselves to take advantage of mobile. And it’s also obviously helpful for mobile software and gadget makers.

But the explosion of mobile growth has given rise to some myths. These have already claimed the lives of some startups and incinerated hundreds of millions of dollars of poorly invested capital.

What are these myths?

Here are the two big ones:

  • The future will be mobile ONLY. No one will have any need for laptops or desktops anymore this story goes. We’ll all just use tablets and smartphones. And “fixed Internet” content, communications, and commerce companies will be replaced by “mobile” versions.
  • All companies should design for mobile FIRST, treating the desktop Internet as, at best, an afterthought.  Those archaic keyboard-operated “big screens,” this theory goes, will be replaced by small touch screens. And all advertisers, content, communications, and commerce companies need to radically change their focus to reflect this.

Anyone who believes either of these stories should look at the picture below.

This picture is a picture of the Business Insider newsroom, with the BI tech team in the foreground.

The BI news team includes some of the most aggressive “early adopters” of new technology on the planet. These folks are completely digital. Anytime a cool new gadget or tool comes out, they buy it immediately and incorporate it into their lives. They own smartphones and tablets. They’re in the 20s and early 30s–card-carrying members of the “digital generation.” In short, they’re as digitally connected as anyone gets.

BI Newsroom

[credit provider=”Henry Blodget”]

So, how much “mobile” do you see in that photo?

Not a whole lot (if any).

Why not?

Because, like many “knowledge workers,” the members of the BI editorial team spend 8-12 hours a day in an office.

And they’ll be damned if they’re going to spend all that time squinting at tiny mobile screens.

The US smartphone market is already more than 55% penetrated. Most of the “knowledge workers” in the US–the folks who create and consume news and information, communicate digitally, and shop digitally (and make most of the country’s income) already have smartphones. And within another year or two, they will also have tablets.

But these tablets and smartphones will not suddenly cause all knowledge workers to jettison bigger screens and “go mobile.” They’ll just enable these consumers and professionals to stay actively connected for a full 18 hours a day, instead of 8-12.

Yes, in the process, these mobile devices may cannibalise some desktop-based big screen Internet usage, but, for most companies, not a whole lot. Mostly, they’ll just increase overall usage. And they will enable consumers to interact with their favourite digital brands and services for all of their waking hours instead of just their hours at work.

These “mobile” users, moreover, won’t want to interact with their favourite brands and services ONLY on mobile, or even necessarily MOSTLY on mobile (It depends on the service: Mobile music, for example, is huge, as are some mobile games). They’ll want to interact with them everywhere.

So the idea that most companies should reorient their entire businesses around “Mobile only” or “mobile first” seems misguided, at best.

Mobile is a huge global growth story, and companies should obviously think about how to take advantage of that.

But, for most companies, “mobile only” and “mobile first” should be seen for what they are: Myths.

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