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The Dawning of High Mobility

I’ve been tracking the amount of time I spend per day on my Mac versus on my iPhone.

A version of this essay was originally published at Tech.pinions, a website dedicated to informed opinions, insight and perspective on the tech industry.

Over the past few months, I’ve been running a series of experiments analyzing my own time spent using computers. Primarily, I’ve been tracking the amount of time I spend per day on my Mac versus on my iPhone. I’ve started doing this because of some assumptions I’ve had about the future — mainly that the smartphone is the primary computing device for billions of people, including those in markets where PC penetration is high.

I’ve studied the market for mobile computing for the better part of the past 15 years I’ve been an industry analyst. We knew early in the 2000s that notebooks were key for PCs to penetrate consumer markets, due to consumers’ desires to not be stuck at a desk. The PC experience needed to move beyond the desk, and the notebook was the solution. This signaled the first shift to “high-mobility computing.”

But as I’ve studied and observed how consumer behavior has been evolving in an era of computing which includes tablets and smartphones, we are observing a distinct shift away from traditional PCs. All of this is centered on the view that consumers are highly mobile.

In my day-to-day work routine, I’ve noticed similar patterns. I don’t have the type of job that requires me to sit at a desk all day to work. I spend a great deal of time meeting with clients, conducting field research, giving presentations and taking meetings that extend my knowledge.

Once devices like the iPad and now, specifically, the larger-screen iPhone 6 Plus, entered my life, I noticed a distinct drop in how much time I spend with my Mac. The iPad allowed me to not bring my Mac to many meetings and still be productive. The iPad 6 Plus has made it so I don’t even need to bring my iPad to still be highly productive in the field. My goal was to quantify this.

I’ve been using an app called Moments on my iPhone, which tracks how much time I use my phone during the day. I’ve also been tracking my Mac usage through an app called Time Sink. My average time per week spent using my iPhone is two hours and 53 minutes per day. My average weekly time spent using my Mac is two hours and 14 minutes per day.

What I had not fully internalized before was how little I used my PC some days. When I have a report or column to work on, or a data model to update, or new research to pore through, my daily usage is quite high. But that is not every day of the week. Some days, I would use my Mac as little as 30 minutes. Quantifying this was insightful. Although I’d felt I was disproportionately using my iPhone compared to my Mac on a weekly basis, actually seeing data on how little I use my PC/Mac some days was quite interesting.

Perhaps this is why our data shows some interesting global statistics around time spent on a PC versus a smartphone in every major market we study:

As you can see, in each region, the time spent in hours on smartphones is continuing to increase, while the time spent with PCs is either flat or, in some cases, declining. This emphasizes another observation being floated that the PC is increasingly becoming just a work/productivity device. The follow-up comment to this one is how the number of people who need a PC to do work is significantly smaller than those who don’t.

This experiment started with an enterprise or mobile-worker emphasis. I know myself to be a high-mobility worker, but what it also showed me is how most consumers can be described as high mobility, as well.

A PC is great when you can sit down to use it. For many people, their life is not spent at a desk. The shift from desktop to high-mobility solutions is where computers, software and services are all adapting to the mobile era. This is the central reason I believe we are seeing a behavioral shift in the market of time away from traditional PCs to highly mobile ones.

Given that there are significantly more highly mobile consumers, the software and business opportunity is changing, as well. In many countries, commerce from mobile devices is catching up with that from PCs. Banks are continually highlighting an increase in the number of mobile-banking transactions catching up with those from a PC.

All of this is happening under our noses in developed markets where PC penetration is high. This shift is still happening due to the convenience and necessity of high-mobility computing. It’s key to understand that the opportunity is shifting in nearly every consumer category, from the desktop Internet to the mobile Internet.

At a conference I spoke at last week, I said, “The mobile Internet is the true consumer Internet. Business, commerce, banking, searching, discovering, and all kinds of consumer opportunities are shifting to mobile. Outside of some hardware and productivity software, there is little happening that is interesting and exclusive to the desktop or notebook computer. The world is embracing this shift because the opportunity is significantly larger. The time spent in observation signals the changing of the times to our mobile future. Hundreds of millions of people live highly mobile lives, and now computing can, as well.”

Ben Bajarin is a principal analyst at Creative Strategies Inc., an industry analysis, market intelligence and research firm located in Silicon Valley. His primary focus is consumer technology and market trend research. He is a husband, father, gadget enthusiast, trend spotter, early adopter and hobby farmer. Reach him @BenBajarin.

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