Mobile Productivity Trumps Entertainment

As I reflect on CES 2013 – and look past the mirage of glitz and tumult – I keep thinking back to one particularly poignant panel discussion and some fresh research on smartphones that best captured the new direction and philosophical changes on display at this annual gathering in the Mojave Desert.

We all know that consumers are gaining access to more media as the lines of difference among smartphones, tablets, and online blur. But our co-dependency issues with our mobile devices may not be so overwhelming after all – because, as much as we enjoy reading, watching, listening, and interacting with media on these devices, we still primarily use smartphones to get things done.

“People look at smartphones to do utilitarian, useful functions,” said Lucy Hood, executive director of the University of Southern California’s Institute for Communications Technology Management (CTM). At CES, she presented research from CTM that relegated entertainment to fifth among the most frequently used wireless services. Communications, web browsing, news, weather, and social networking are still key parts of the user experience on mobile, the study found.

Smartphone users are “doing mundane, utilitarian stuff,” Hood said on a panel about how mobility is empowering consumers’ lifestyles at CES. “Maybe that’s because we’ve realized smartphones can’t do everything.” Or perhaps it’s that consumers don’t want smartphones to run their lives, she said. After all, more than half of those surveyed by CTM said they use wireless devices to get information quickly, save time, or accomplish something useful.

Brian Angiolet, VP of marketing communications at Verizon Wireless, said consumers determine which device to use at any given moment based on the amount of time they have and where they are in the search experience. “It has to do with the context of what people are trying to do,” he said, adding that 65 percent of all entertainment-focused searches start on a smartphone. “I personally don’t think about what’s going to win, I think about what consumers do where they are,” he added.

Healthcare makes mobile meaningful
Continuing the discussion about the more meaningful opportunities that mobility is unlocking, Angiolet noted that high-bandwidth wireless networks, cloud computing, applications development, and this growing arsenal of mobile devices are all colliding in fabulously innovative fashion.

“I just think it’s going to serve something bigger and a higher purpose,” he said, alluding to breakthroughs in healthcare, finance, and other core services.

When CTM’s Hood asked each panelist what they expect to be most surprised by in five years, a majority went straight to healthcare without hesitation. When a group of mobile marketers, entertainment and carrier executives, and device makers talk about the “miraculous changes” and “democratization” of the healthcare system as the most profound opportunity ahead, I can’t help but take notice. It all seemed remarkably earnest and unscripted, and it certainly made me wonder.

As much as I enjoy using my smartphone for entertainment, it is so much more than that. More often than not, my smartphone is my primary tool for completing my daily tasks. If I need to check finances, control the thermostat, play music on a wirelessly connected stereo, reach out to someone, battle with the inbox, or search for virtually anything in the world, I reach for my phone.

To take advantage of these changes, service providers will have to evolve from device-centric marketing machines into truly interconnected networks that bridge consumers with next-generation platforms. As these mobile devices and services converge, the focus will be back on the networks and platforms that make these connections possible.

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