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This chapter is from the book

Beyond the Numbers

These statistics are important, but what do they mean? We’ve seen substantial growth rates for any number of technologies, channels, and platforms over the past few decades, but mobile is outpacing them all. Any kind of statistical analysis has to also recognize the rapid, dramatic rise in mobile-related behaviors. When we learn that 26% of mobile phone users have hooked up their phones to their cars to listen to media, this shows more than simply a typical adoption curve for new technology. It shows a clear, pent-up demand to engage in activities previously not possible, but certainly imagined. After all, it isn’t necessarily a straightforward activity to connect your phone to a vehicle, and yet tens of millions of Americans have done just that to have more choice and control over the content they want to consume.

The rise in smartphone ownership, and the even more dramatic rise in mobile-related behaviors, is not just about technology. It’s about enabling behaviors that are natural to humans, and there’s no better way to think about them than to imagine a day in the life of a modern smartphone user.

First of all, how do you wake up in the morning? In 2013, Edison’s Infinite Dial study asked that question of a representative sample of Americans aged 12 and older. The number one answer, at 30% of the population, was by setting an alarm on a mobile phone.7 Remember the movie Groundhog Day, in which Bill Murray’s character kept waking up on the same calendar day to a radio morning show? Today, a plurality of Americans wake up to a noise—the noise of their smartphone alarm.

After shaking off the cobwebs of sleep, today’s smartphone owner takes the phone off the nightstand and checks Facebook, the emails that came in the night before, the weather, and the news headlines. Statistically, smartphone owners check Facebook several more times throughout the day, because they can. But for now, a simple scan will do.

After breakfast, our mobile-savvy consumer gets dressed, packs his bag for the day, and turns once again to the mobile phone. For those who commute by car, a destination is loaded into a navigation app that features a real-time traffic subscription, informing of the fastest route to work. For those who take public transportation, apps are available that transmit the exact times that the bus or the subway will arrive, and the optimal path for the commuter to use to get in on time and with no wasted effort.

During the commute, either via car or public transportation, the smartphone user consumes media previously unavailable. Drivers listen to Pandora or a Spotify playlist. Bus riders listen to yesterday’s NPR podcasts, or watch a news program on YouTube or Hulu. Some may even share a funny moment from those shows over Twitter, or snap a photo of their commute to post to Instagram, a behavior that was not possible just three years ago.

Before entering the office, our protagonist walks by a coffee shop. Just by passing through the doorway, a Near Field Communications (NFC) or Bluetooth Low-Energy (BLE) chip notifies the coffee shop that a Cafe Americano is on order, and a connected mobile wallet takes care of the bill. Not a word is spoken as the exact order is placed, retrieved, and consumed.

That morning, our subject may work on a variety of tasks, online and off, but he takes a number of “digital vacations” at various times throughout the day. Many of these breaks take the form of checking Facebook or other social media platforms. At one point, our hero sees a friend post about a new music recording, or a book, or a movie. In that instant, a decision is made, and the book or the album, is seam-lessly purchased and downloaded to the phone.

Halfway through the day, our hero finishes downloading the new book or music and decides to go out to lunch. A location-based application finds a nearby restaurant, and another app secures a reservation without so much as a phone call.

During lunch, the smartphone is retrieved once again, to submit a review of the restaurant on Yelp, or simply to check in on Swarm to let friends know the best place for a hot dog downtown.

After lunch, on the walk back to the office, our hero hears about a new TV show and searches his phone for the details. After reading several positive reviews, he orders a few episodes, or even a whole season, to watch on the way home. A text is sent to a spouse: “Pizza and a movie?” “Good idea!” By the time the commute home rolls around, the movie is ready to go and dinner is ordered for pickup via a mobile app.

During the movie, a product placement shows up for a new sports car. Once again, the smartphone is employed, and several reviews of the car are found while sitting on the couch. A decision is made: A test-drive seems like a good idea. An appointment is made via email with a local dealer during the movie, and another app is consulted to line up possible financing.

Finally, it’s time for bed. An alarm is set on the phone, tomorrow’s weather consulted, and a conversation with a spouse points the way to a book that a son or daughter spoke about. The phone is brought out once again, and an order placed with an online retailer; the book will arrive in two days. The lights go out, and our hero goes to bed, to sleep the sleep of champions.

None of what you have just read was possible even five years ago. And yet, nothing here is science fiction or implausible—only new ways to do the things we’ve always done, like order pizza. That is the point of this chapter: The advances in mobile technology are not about enabling things that were previously unimaginable. These things were all imaginable. What mobile technology enables is the ability to do things where and when we want to do them, plain and simple, and that as much as anything has led to the dramatic rise in smartphone ownership and usage over the past three years. Smartphones make doing the things we already do even easier.

The current state of mobile does not enable some strange or foreign activity, but the ability to engage in the familiar, no matter where we are. In fact, the mobile commerce revolution is not about technology, but rather about what we can do with that technology, and how it enables and empowers us to engage in natural behaviors that we didn’t even know we could engage in. If you travel to a new city and wonder where you should go for dinner, you’ve never had more information at your fingertips than you do right now, and mobile technology is a great equalizer in that sense. With near-perfect information available at our fingertips in terms of local business reviews, for instance, the best “mobile” strategy for a restaurant is to be a great restaurant, period. Thanks to mobile review and reservation apps, there’s simply no other way to survive in a world with near-perfect, instant, real-time communication.

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