As I was starting to write, I kept thinking about how in only the last year or so, my personal “computing” experience has changed more drastically than it has in the last 30 years. Putting things into perspective, I remember my dad bringing home one of the first “portable” computers. It was a Compaq computer with a green (or was it amber?) screen, a 5.25″ hard drive, and a 20 megabyte hard drive. It had to weigh 20 pounds or more. The keyboard, which (when latched on) covered the screen and hard drive, connected to the computer via a curly thick cable. Our home computer, the Commodore 64, was more than enough machine, and neither system had a mouse. I remember the first time I used a mouse at a computer summer camp (I sucked at sports). I liked it a lot, and have never stopped using it since.
Photo Courtesy Wikipedia
Sure, everything has evolved since those days, but it feels to me as if the evolutions (while hugely significant) didn’t really change “how” I use a computer: at a desk with one hand on the mouse and the keyboard right next to it. Even through the evolution from DOS to Windows, and my newer conversion to the world of OSX and Macs, the primal computing experience has been the same: monitor, keyboard, mouse.
In the last year, though, my personal computing patterns have changed significantly. I spend less and less time working on my desktop or laptop. More often than not, I’m using my mobile phone and iPad for almost all my needs. Sure, I still revert to the desktop or laptop to write long reports or proposals, but the day-to-day stuff I do (e-mails, IM, reviewing documents, sketching ideas for my clients and designers, etc.) no longer has me tied down to the desk, or my office. I find myself “on the go” much more, because I’m not afraid of missing that important call, not being there to answer a time-sensitive e-mail, or waiting by the fax machine for a document I need to sign.
The name of this column refers to that trusty mouse I’ve used all along this slowly evolving journey. I just recently bought the new Magic Trackpad from Apple, and have replaced my desktop mouse with it. I prefer it to the regular trackpad, and always liked using my laptop because it had a trackpad built in. It was in removing my mouse from the desktop that planted the seeds for this column, and realization of just how much things have changed for me recently.
Not only has my computing experience moved largely away from the desktop, but the essence of the desktop experience (the mouse) is now changed for me as well. And this shift is happening so quickly, as compared to the last 30 years of my life.
What does all this mean to us as marketers and online designers? On the surface, nothing you haven’t heard before: multichannel, mobile, blah blah blah. It’s a song we’ve all heard and (mostly) believe.
But it’s true, especially when it comes to branding, and the existing “big brands” we all know. The common brands I used to use on my desktop are changing, because many of my tasks now originate from other computing sources (like the iPhone or iPad), where specific task-oriented apps have made it easier for me to do the simple things I need. And, the brands of those apps are replacing the brands I used on the desktop. From simple examples, like what FTP program I use, to less geeky examples, like what dating sites I (never) look at, I am finding new brands based on their availability on other platforms, and then seeking out those brands online to complete my desktop experience. Even when it comes to creating to-do lists, I first looked in the App Store to see if there was a nifty app for the iPad/iPhone that could help me prioritize my day’s tasks. I then looked to see if the app I had chosen integrates with my desktop applications (Entourage or Outlook) or if they had a stand-alone desktop application. Not very long ago, my quest for something like this would have started with trying to find a good plug-in to Outlook, with secondary thought being given to what other platforms the plug-in supports.
We are all so concerned with moving the online consumer to the mobile channel that we sometimes forget the intrinsic assumption we are making: that these people are online/Web customers (i.e., desktop/laptop) first. More and more, I’m finding out about brands via mobile first. We should be thinking about these customers and how to add the “online” channel to them, not the other way around.
Plus, I don’t feel as if our user experiences are really evolving to take advantage of these changes. We’re still cramming nearly identical versions of our websites into every device possible, instead of really looking at how new devices could make our user experiences different and better.
Am I the only one who feels like we’re sitting on top of a paradigm shift? I don’t use that term lightly (if ever), because every presentation I’ve ever seen in the last 15 years used “paradigm shift” to describe pretty much any change (insignificant or otherwise).
But if my personal computing experience is any harbinger of change (and I am admittedly an early adopter of most things), then we truly are. Where does this leave those of us who need to at once develop and envision the future of customer interactions while constantly improving and maintaining the “tried and true” channels of our businesses (brick and mortar, e-mail, Web)? One foot on each side of the chasm, I suppose. I, for one, am working hard with our clients to continually evolve their websites and traditional online user experiences. More and more, though, this evolution is being informed by how certain tasks would have been performed on other devices.
Using the multi-touch trackpad I just bought as an example, it’s easy to envision a clothing site in which I can pinch to grow or shrink the size of the shirt I want, or to change the quantities of a certain item. In fact, many multi-touch gestures that are natural on devices like an iPhone are becoming more and more natural on traditional computing devices (certainly laptops, but desktops now, too). And while touch screens still haven’t caught on in the desktop/latptop world like they have in the tablet/mobile worlds, there is clearly movement on that front as well. No one can argue that the tablets have made the Web more of a tactile experience (one that leaves the desktop Web experience feeling a little sterile). How that changes our user interactions will be very interesting, and mobile devices are a good breeding ground for that right now.
While I realize most of the columns I try to write are of the “4 easy steps to increase conversion tomorrow” variety, every now and then I like to stop and reassess. The fundamentals of what I am finding to be important in catering to our users’ “online experience” is changing very quickly lately, simply because my own computing experience has undergone such a major change in the last two years. Of course, most of my clients don’t have consumers like me. My mom, for instance, would never use any of these new devices, and refuses to even touch the Mac Air I bought my parents in an effort to get them off of using Windows. So, companies that cater to folks like my parents are safe for now. But when my generation becomes my parents’ age, and the younger generation becomes my age, these issues will be even more real and palpable.
Companies that are just focused on the “same old, same old” are feeling old and sluggish to me, while new companies that are starting up as non-Web centric could potentially bring down some major players in the traditional Web space. And if they are feeling that way to me, those who are just becoming part of prime spending demographics underneath my age bracket surely feel this way as well.
Do you feel this way too, or am I just being crazy? I look forward to reading your comments below!
Until next time,