The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project released the results of a new survey yesterday, which finds that 35% of American adults own a smartphone. Moreover, 68% of smartphone owners use their device to access the Internet on a daily basis, and 25% use a smartphone as their primary device for accessing the Internet. With smartphones clearly on track to become a ubiquitous device, it’s worth thinking about what the current state of smartphone adoption means for small-business owners, especially those who primarily operate Web-based retail operations.
It’s probably no surprise that smartphone adoption is currently highest amongst the young and the wealthy, but it’s still worth taking a look at some hard numbers: 59% of adults in households earning more than $75,000 a year own smartphones, and 58% of Americans between the ages of 25 and 34 are smartphone owners. Interestingly, it seems that age is a stronger indicator of smartphone ownership than income, as ownership rates among 18-29 year-olds living in households earning less than $30,000/year is equal to the ownership rate of those living in households earning the national average (which is roughly $45,000/year). Smartphone users are, by and large, absolutely giddy about their devices, as evidenced by the word cloud Pew created based on their respondents’ descriptions of their devices (fig. 1).
So, for small-businesses who heavily rely on their Web presence to generate revenue, what does this all mean? For starters, maybe it’s time to stop creating “mobile” variations of your website—which are often little more than stripped-down, functionality impaired versions of the full website—and focus instead on making the main website more easily navigable by small-format touchscreen devices. Eschew the Flash-heavy splash pages and complicated drop-down menus, and offer a clean interface that scales seamlessly from Android smartphones, to iPads, to Windows 7 desktops.
If you’re thinking about creating mobile “apps” to allow users to access your online business, consider whether the development costs are truly worth it; if the app can provide features and functionality not readily attainable through traditional website (such as location-aware offers, or integration with other mobile apps), then it might be worth it. Otherwise, those development costs might be better spent streamlining and enhancing the main website (as argued above). Even the venerable Amazon, for instance, has fallen into the mobile-app-trap, as their general Android app doesn’t really improve upon the Amazon experience available through the stock Android Web browser, and is therefore largely unnecessary. BUT, Amazon’s MP3 Store and Kindle apps are brilliant, as they allow easy mobile access to particular portions of Amazon’s offerings, and integrate seamlessly with other apps and functions on users’ mobile devices (the MP3 store app, for instance, can download music purchases into whatever music player you might be running on your smartphone).
The takeaway: Pew’s research shows just how quickly and deeply smartphone devices are being integrated into our daily lives, and we can infer that, based on their relatively small touchscreens, these devices are being used more for consuming than producing (if you need to create and manipulate a large spreadsheet, you’re probably going to do it on a full-fledged laptop or desktop). Throw tablets (another device category designed primarily for consumption) into the mix, and we’re suddenly talking about a majority of users’ online commerce experiences occurring through devices that (typically) can’t run Flash, have awkward text-input interfaces, and do a poor job of scaling large-format websites. The mobile online experience is no longer a “developing market,” it’s now rapidly becoming the dominant path through which consumers are engaging in online commercial activity. Stay ahead of the curve, and treat “mobile” as the new norm for website design and development.