Sequencing, Multi-Tasking and Following: What’s the Future for Smartphones, Tablets and Marketers?

Recent research makes it clear that the distinctions between desktop computers, laptops, tablets and smartphones are disappearing. It might be more accurate to say that the interrelationships are expanding. But we still wonder if researchers are drawing the most useful conclusions. Let’s explain.

Because we can do so many of the same things now on every kind of device – thanks to services like Apple’s iCloud and the incredible versatility of smaller devices like phones and tablets – 90 percent of Americans move between devices to accomplish a task – for instance, researching a purchase on their smartphone on the train, then making the purchase on a work laptop and then tracking it that night from their tablet. This is the news from Google, in a recent report, The New Multi-screen World: Understanding Cross-Platform Consumer Behavior.

Americans move “sequentially” across devices 81 percent of the time for browsing, 72 percent of the time for social networking and 67 percent of the time for shopping – typically completing these tasks in a single day. That’s a lot of moving!

The study also found that there’s a lot of multi-tasking – 81 percent reported using a TV and a smartphone at the same time, 66 percent for smartphone/PC use and for PC/TV use. Roughly three-quarters of people use the two devices for distinct tasks, but almost a quarter say they “sequence,” such as googling an actor they’re watching on TV.

Google points out in the report that marketers must work hard to “follow” users across devices with an integrated, pleasing experience. But we know that this is indeed hard work. And what about for users? We feel that the laws of time-efficiency and physical ergonomics play a big role here. Are sequencing, multi-tasking and following optimal for all parties?

This is why we’re intrigued by two current trends in device formats: smaller tablets like the iPad Mini and the Google Nexus 7, and larger “superphones” like the powerful iOS, Android and Windows 8 devices. There’s clearly a convergence going on toward a physical format that solves as many of the sequencing and multi-tasking chores as possible.

Backing this up is surprising data that shows how much people are using smartphones at home for “me time” activities like watching movies and social networking.” And thanks to texting and social media, you wonder if “smartphone” is even the right name for the device anymore – if the phone function isn’t simply one of many and will eventually be an elegant part of every mini-tablet – combining computer, TV and phone is an optimally efficient and ergonomic unit.

We think a big winner in this scenario is online video, which could finally be presented in a frame just large enough for comfortable extended watching (compared to current smartphones) while the user talks on the phone (or via IP) and possibly does some searching or shopping or tweeting.

Certainly marketers would welcome this convergence, at least theoretically: there will always be some sequencing, multi-tasking and following for marketers to deal with.

But the current trends remind us that even as we’re working to master the digital world as it is, we have to look ahead. A dozen years ago, the prediction was indeed for convergence – but around a device that combined a full computer and a TV. Seems quaint now.