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In a Mobile-First World, Don’t Forget the PC

Since the iPad arrived in 2010, the role of the PC has been greatly scrutinized. Is it a dying form factor? Is it something consumers no longer need? Is the smartphone the only device people will use someday? Will the tablet kill the PC?

OpinionsThe debate is relevant because it helps businesses decide where to focus their resources. Clearly, the smartphone is many people's primary computing device, so a mobile-first strategy is a no-brainer.

Mobile-first simply means the smartphone is the primary engagement point, but this will vary by application. Something like Netflix, for example, is primarily consumed on larger screen devices like PCs, TVs, and tablets. Microsoft Office and other enterprise or commercial applications are primarily used on PCs. But because the smartphone is with us at all times, it is crucial for PC-first applications to have complementary smartphone experiences.

But when it comes to consumer software and services, the strategy gets flipped. Mobile has been the mantra for developers and consumer software strategists for the last few years. But I'd suggest many of these mobile-only apps can benefit from a PC experience as well.

Interestingly, global data tells us the PC is still used heavily on a daily basis across nearly all demographics.

Smartphone PC stats

As you can see, the amount of time spent per day on PCs is still significant. Our estimates indicate ~1.3 billion people personally own a PC, compared to the nearly 3 billion people who own a smartphone. The global average of time spent using a PC each day by those ~1.3 billion people is 3.54 hours per day.

What became clear a few years ago was the smartphone was not necessarily taking time away from the PC but adding to the total time spent using devices and being on the internet each day. Looking back through years of data, daily time spent using a PC has stayed roughly flat while daily time using a smartphone has grown dramatically. People seem to use both devices independently and in tandem to browse the web, communicate, play games, watch videos, be on social media, and shop more than ever.

It is also important to note that globally, millennials still spend a lot of time on their PCs. The fallacy is to think the only way to reach millennials is with a mobile app. While they do indeed spend a lot of time on their phones and within apps, the data suggests it would be a mistake to not also offer millennials some way to engage with software or services on their PCs as well, provided they don't just blindly duplicate their mobile strategy on the desktop.

I believe the real debate should be whether to make a website or an app. To me, the path is clear — make an app. Take Twitter, for example. It's a mobile-first experience; Twitter's website and desktop app are pretty poor compared to other client-side apps for macOS and Windows 10. I'd argue Twitter is losing a significant engagement point on the PC, given how much time people spend browsing the web for news and entertainment while on their PCs.

Related

Snapchat has an opportunity here, too. The value of being able to message friends from the desktop makes a lot of sense. The counter-argument is that it's not that hard to pick up your smartphone and open the app to send a snap. However, that misses the increased friction in that experience. For example, I use Slack quite a bit for work and personal things, but only because it's available on mobile and the desktop.

Facebook might also want to consider robust desktop apps for Instagram and Facebook Messenger; the browser-based solutions just get buried in a mountain of open tabs. Apps offer rich notifications and a more visual experience.

Being mobile-first is the right strategy. Prioritize the mobile experience, but don't forget that customers also spend many hours per day in front of their PCs.

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