Thursday, August 04, 2011

In Defense of Desktop Computing

I saw this Dilbert strip on Chris Miller's Google +. (I don't know Chris, so he's in my "Friends I Don't Know" circle, as are quite a few people I've "met" online.)

A few days ago (might've been weeks; time flies online) Someone I follow on Twitter pointed to an article at eMarketer with the tweet: "Mobile will soon enough be primary channel. 91 million will view web on mobile by end of year." I thought, "Hmmmm, this sounds like one of those predictions/stats/forecasts being pushed by someone with a vested interest in mobile marketing." The article opens:
More than 91 million US consumers will use the internet through a mobile device at least monthly by the end of this year, eMarketer estimates, and research shows that the increase in on-the-go web usage goes hand in hand with more search activity for local content.

"At least monthly," is not exactly indicative of widespread adoption. These "at least monthly" users are probably a lot like me. You're driving down the road with your spouse, friend, whatever, and you're talking about that movie with, oh what's her name? Damnit! I can see her in my mind but I can't remember her name! Pull up my Wikipedia app and look up that movie.

The article does sum up nicely, however, what mobile is best suited to: 
The need for local businesses to reach mobile users when they are nearby is clear and growing. With 33% of all mobile users accessing local content, and 87% of that group GPS-capable, location-based targeting and local search opportunities can help marketers reach customers at a moment of need—and convenience. 

Basically, what we're talking about here is restaurants.

Mobile has a place, of course. At my last gig, a number of people always showed up to useless meetings about endless projects with iPads, tapping away notes and pulling up other notes, their fingers poised in that delicate way we have learned to type on laptops and iPads. Others (myself included) wiled away these senseless meetings playing Words with Friends, Wolfenstein, Angry Birds or checking our Twitter and Facebook feeds on our smart phones. But when it came to actual work, like programming, writing, designing, audio and video production, even those iPad users could be found at their big boxes, with a trusty clickity-clack keyboard and a good old mouse all hooked up to obscene amounts of memory wired into a giant pipe of lighting fast connectivity. Let's not forget the screen. No smart phone display or iPad screen will ever give you the freedom of that monster landscape before you. "I'm not at my computer right now," we email the person from our phone, "But as soon as I get back I'll take care of that."

Answer emails? Of course. Log into a server and fix a problem? Sure. Locate a file and get it where it needs to be? Absolutely. But I don't see mobile as "primary" anytime soon. It's a supplement. a tool, a convenience, a toy. By all means, retail businesses should get all Foursquared and Yelped out, but the futurists are a little early on this one. We like a station, a home base, a place where our stuff is and we can sit down and work. (Or stand up, as I just adopted.)

And maybe that's just my generation. The "kids" are quite happy to never see Facebook on a big screen, thumbing away at their tiny keyboards on their phones. Perhaps by the time they're in the workforce, they can edit huge files of video from behind the wheel of their car or seated on a plane. I hope, for their sake, that they aren't connected full-time, where there's never a place they can go where they aren't being asked or feel required to do a task. For their stress and sanity, "I'm not at my computer right now" will be a nice thing to still be able to say.

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