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Adapt or Die

Yesterday Apple announced its third-generation iPad, simply named "iPad." Buried in MG Siegler's excellent take on the press event is this statement:

What's more likely — 5 years from now, your primary home computing device is a PC? Or 5 years from now, your primary home computing device is a tablet? Just two years ago, this question would have been an absolute joke. Now it's a joke to think it will take a full five years.

In the post-PC world, tablets are becoming the new normal more and more. In just the two years since the iPad was first introduced, we've seen it pervasive on airplanes to entertain children, many executives in Silicon Valley walking around with them instead of lugging laptops, and even the President of the United States receiving his Presidential Daily Briefing via iPad instead of a sheet of paper.

How We Really Use Tablets

Rosetta—the agency for which I work—released a study last month around how we consumers use tablets. Consumption and entertainment are still the primary uses of tablets today, but here are some interesting points to note:

  • 33% of tablet users (who owned one 12+ months) prefer to read/check email on their tablets
  • 38% of them prefer tablets to read e-books, magazines or newspapers
  • 34% of them use their tablets at work
  • 45% on the go

In other words we're witnessing the trend of users either adding to their repertoire of connected devices or in some cases shifting away from traditional PCs to tablets. As MG Siegler said in the quote above, tablets are poised to become the primary computing device at home.

But I would argue that place is a misleading distinction. Yes, PCs will likely still be a primary computing device at the office, but maybe it's the wrong way to put it.

Work/Life, Life/Work

PCs today are not stationary. Almost every workplace I've come across in recent years outfits its workforce with laptops. Those laptops are often taken home so that work can be done at home. And here's the thing: as much as we'd like to draw a hard line between work and home, it's too fuzzy. It's too gray.

Workers check their personal emails and Facebook while at work, on their work machines. They IM their friends or watch funny cat videos on YouTube in the office. Conversely they check their work email on their personal smartphones and catch up with industry-related reading before bed.

The workforce of today achieves work/life balance by seamlessly blending the two to get things done. Wherever they are.

Responsive Web Design

Out of this notion of users being connected constantly and wanting access to information all the time, wherever they are, the responsive web design movement was born. Essentially it's a set of techniques to enable a single codebase to deliver multiple layouts for different screen sizes. The redesign of has become the poster child for this modern and forward-looking approach to designing for the web. It's about letting users access content from whatever devices they have, wherever they are. And with this approach, content creators are also saving money on operating expenditures because they only have one site to maintain, not two or three. No longer should you need to write a different headline for mobile.

The Impending Future Is Here

With all this data staring at them in the face, it amazes me that when it comes to digital marketing, many corporations still have the traditional view of developing for mobile. They are still stuck on starting with the desktop experience and then dumbing it down for smartphones and tablets. The old way of thinking made sense at the time (three, four years ago?): users on the go have different needs, and the screen real estate is too small to do anything significant.

However, as we've become used to having the Internet in our pocket and as we've found a place for the tablet to live in our lives, that four year-old thinking is sadly out of touch with the impending future.

432 million users use Facebook on a mobile device every month. Facebook partially attributes the 76% increase from 2010 to the release of its iPad app. With Apple selling more iPads in Q4 2011 than PCs sold by any PC manufacturer, and with annual tablet sales projected to be at over 45 million by 2016, tablets are here to stay and will become more and more prevalent.

Additionally 472 million smartphones were sold in 2011, 46% of the U.S. adult population have smartphones, and 69% of smartphone owners use it for business. Last, but not least: 81% of smartphone users browse the Internet. The mobile web and the notion of content anywhere cannot be ignored.

The workforce of tomorrow will read their work emails on their smartphones and tablets. They will do research and consume work-related content on those devices. And they will go beyond consumption and produce work on those devices.

As designers and marketers, to ignore this is ignoring the inevitable.

© 1995–2024 Roger Wong. All rights reserved.