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By Thomas Baekdal - March 2012

People No Longer Decide What Device They Use

Yesterday, Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism came out with 'The State of The News Media, An Annual Report on American Journalism'. The report itself is very interesting, but there is one change that everyone seems to miss. It is the profound change that is happening in our new multi-device world.

In the past, business decisions were usually made based on predefined marked conditions - like when a brand says it will only open up a retail shop in cities with a population of 100,000 or more. This concept is hardwired into every one of us. Until we reached a predetermined critical mass, we decide to not interact with that market.

The same happened when we started to use the internet. We would look at browser share, screen resolutions, and other features, and then decide if something was worth investing in.

And today, we see the same old market thinking when it comes to mobile devices. In Pew's report, we could find these two graphs. The first one showing how many people own more than one device (52%). And the second, how many who are regularly consuming news on more than one device (34%).

Share of people who own more than one device

Share of people who consume content on more than one device

Studies like these are immensely interesting because it tells us a lot about the shift in media (and how incredibly fast it is happening). But it is also irrelevant, because of the much more powerful trend of how we connect.

We no longer make a decision to be in a specific market. We expect any market/product to be available when we need it.

We see this with brands. In the past, it was perfectly reasonable to only open shops in your primary market, but in the connected world you don't want to confine your product to a market.

The thing that has change is how the connected world is turning our market conditions upside down. Not only is the connected world removing the limitations of the past, it is dramatically changing people's expectations of your availability.

We expect that if we connect with you, we should also be able to engage with your brand and product.

The same is now happening with our devices. In the past, each device was seen as a separate object with separate capabilities. But that is no longer the case. If you want to read an email, you can do that on whatever device you have.

This has caused a profound change in how people interact with their devices. In the old days, the devices we used were explicitly linked to an action:

But today, because our devices are so similar, we expect to be able to use whatever device that happens to be closest to us. And the stunning result is that old user behavior of 'choosing a device' to 'do an action' has been distilled down to just 'do the action':

If you are sitting comfortable in your couch checking up on something on your phone, and a friend asks you if you have seen that product he just posted about on Facebook, you are not going to put down your phone, get out of your couch, and walk into another room to look up that picture on your laptop. You will just use whatever device that happens to be in your hands at that moment (in this case your phone).

And if you as a brand are not ready for that (i.e. if you require a desktop browser), you are working against your audience. It doesn't matter what the mobile market share happen to be. You have to be ready for people whenever they come to you, using whatever device they happen to be using.

It is the same with publishers. If you are sitting at work, working on your laptop, and a friend asks if you have read that article over at Wired, you are not going to stand up to find your bag, take out your iPad, and start the Wired app just to read it. You are going to ask, "Do you have a link?" and then expect to be able to read it on whatever device you happen to be using at that moment.

It doesn't matter what the iPad market share is. People no longer make the decision to use a specific device for a specific action. People connect, and they then expect you to honor that connection on whatever device they happen to use.

If you are not everywhere, you are not relevant!

A simple example of this is Evernote. I use Evernote every single day for jotting down notes and ideas for new articles. The reason I love to use Evernote is that it allows me to use it wherever I am, using whatever device I want - even offline.

That means that my workflow is: Get an idea, write it down!

If Evernote was an *iPad only app*, it would be completely useless to me. It would force me to go to that device every single time I had an idea. It would be a disruption of my workflow, and it would require me to focus on something else than what I am thinking about, causing me to forget parts of that idea, before I had found that I last put my iPad in my Kitchen.

The usefulness of Evernote is explicitly linked to being on every device. It doesn't matter what the mobile market share may be. If it is not everywhere, I could not use it.

The trend in the two graphs from Pew is very interesting for an analytical perspective. But the world has changed. It doesn't matter what the numbers are any longer. All you need to know is that you need to connect to whatever device that happens to be closest to your audience at any given moment.

You need to take the 'device thinking' out of the equation.


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Thomas Baekdal

Founder, media analyst, author, and publisher. Follow on Twitter

"Thomas Baekdal is one of Scandinavia's most sought-after experts in the digitization of media companies. He has made ​​himself known for his analysis of how digitization has changed the way we consume media."
Swedish business magazine, Resumé


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