min read

Not All Mobile Is Created Equal

by Allan Fromen , 10.04.2013

The mobile revolution is happening astoundingly quickly. Smartphone penetration is now well over 50%* and 30%* of Americans now own a tablet – which is pretty amazing, considering that the iPad was only introduced three years ago.

Given the impressive growth and penetration of smartphones and tablets, related services are now booming. For example, mobile advertising is expected to exceed $7 billion this year, with eMarketer projecting it to reach $27 billion by 2017. Mobile search is also growing, with an estimated 1 in 4 searches now coming via a mobile device. Mobile is so important that Facebook just released its Home application, in an effort to capture more mobile eyeballs.

Clearly, mobile devices have garnered the attention of marketers. However, while tablets and smartphones are generally lumped together under the “mobile” umbrella, there are important distinctions that should be kept in mind. The great majority of tablets in the market today are wi-fi only, meaning they are not truly mobile devices, since they are not connected when away from a wi-fi signal.

Tablets have been called “the second screen” as they are primarily used in the home -- while watching TV, relaxing on the coach, and so on. In fact, GfK data indicates 60% of tablet owners use their device only at home. Smartphones, on the other hand, are truly mobile; they are with us wherever we go, always connected, always within reach, with most people constantly checking them and keeping them nearby, even when sleeping.

Marketers need to stop thinking about mobile and start thinking about tablet vs. smartphone. For example, mobile search is something that is particularly different depending on the device. On a tablet, someone is likely stationary, probably at home, but perhaps in an office or coffee shop. The searching will be more akin to the searching we all do on a PC – informational, shopping, and more.

Smartphone searching is very different because it is location and time based. On a smartphone, I am more likely to be searching for a restaurant with good reviews that is within a few blocks (location) and still open (time), or a nearby movie theater (location) that has a movie I want to see within the next hour (time). These types of searches are more tactical – they involve finding/locating something and are less about searching as we do on a tablet.

These types of distinctions are extremely important to marketers trying to reach a particular audience. While the introduction of larger smartphones and smaller tablets may blur some of the differences in the future, today these “phablets” occupy only a small niche in the market.

When smartphones and tablets were still in their embryonic stages, lumping them together made sense. But today, consumers interact with their smartphones very differently than they do with their tablets, and understanding those differences should inform how you communicate with those consumers. By tailoring tactics and messaging to the medium, companies will have greater success reaching their intended audience and converting calls to action.

*Based on GfK proprietary data

Allan Fromen is Vice President, Consulting, in Financial Services at GfK. He can be reached at allan.fromen@gfk.com.