Faces of Consumption: Smartphones The Incidental Finding

CELL_usageHave you ever intended to look up something in particular, only to end up discovering something else? To draw a parallel to marketing research, this would be similar to initiating a study with a set of objectives only to find an unexpected outcome. In research, we refer to the discovery of unexpected outcomes as incidental findings. In spite of incidental findings being unintentional, they often lead to rich insight.

Recently, I began drilling down on mountains of interesting data regarding our Faces of Consumption initiative when I stumbled upon incidental findings that were intriguing. As a result, I was reminded that we ought to remain open minded to incidental findings.  As Louis Pasteur once said, “Chance favors the prepared mind.” In other words, if you know what you want and are prepared, you will identify the opportunity and accept it when it comes along. To further drive home the point that Louis Pasteur made, some of our greatest inventions were incidental or even accidental: http://science.discovery.com/famous-scientists-discoveries/10-accidental-inventions.htm

  • Penicillin
  • Pacemaker
  • Plastic
  • Rubber
  • Teflon
  • Radioactivity

Before discussing the incidental findings I came across, a brief rehash of our first phase of Faces of Consumption of social media had to do with associating segments of the population with the social networks. In our most recent phase, we are examining the Faces of Consumption of smartphones. In the early section of our Faces of Consumption smartphone questionnaire, we elicit background on how people are using their computers, tablets and smart phones. It is in in this background section where I came across incidental findings.

As we have read regularly in the press, the computer as we know it today is soon (if not already) to be anointed as the next dinosaur. In July 2013, US Today published an article about PC and tablet markets trending in opposite directions. http://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/2013/07/01/pc-tablet-market/2479963/ Time magazine earlier this year even went as far as expressing the point of view that the smartphone will be the next PC.  Along those lines, there is no shortage of articles and blogs expressing a point of view that mobile devices are replacing PCs. In specific environments, this might very well be true. However, when going through our Faces of Consumption data, interesting findings emerged on how consumers are using their PCs/Macs, tablets and smartphones. Thus, understanding the activities that one performs on these devices provides us with deeper insight as opposed to making blankets statements that one device substitutes for one another. There is no argument that PCs, tablets and smartphones are central tools for us to accomplish work and daily activities, communicate with one another and even be entertained.  Yet, as our findings show, each device has distinct roles.

To best illustrate the point, the following table includes a rank order of the top nine activities mentioned for each of the three form factors.


In thinking about the form factors and what one is doing on each one, it becomes apparent why individuals have not simply replaced their PC or Mac with a tablet or smartphone. Have you ever tried to take videos or photos with a PC or Mac? Do you perceive a feeling of more security with https on a home PC when banking or purchasing as opposed to performing these tasks using public WiFi on a phone? Does your PC or WiFi-only tablet have the capacity to act as a GPS? And there are many similar points that can be made relevant to specific tasks and activities performed on them.

That being said, there are areas of intersection presenting opportunities to harmonize form factors. For example, general Internet browsing can easily be accomplished on all three form factors with little security risk or logistical challenges. Thus, a challenge for technology companies is not just simply manufacturing a phablet (smartphone-tablet with a larger screen) but also building a device that meets all needs with a single compatible form factor. Will wearable technology (i.e., Google glass) be a solution that marries the best capabilities that PCs/Macs, tablets and smartphones have to offer?

Incidental findings empowered us to comparatively look at form factors and their associated activities to determine where there are opportunities and gaps.  While not the primary, secondary or even tertiary objectives of the Faces of Consumption project, the findings hold relevance today as we evolve in the way we accomplish tasks and are entertained. At MSI International we do not robotically execute research but question and dig deep into findings. Thus, we should keep in mind that it might be the incidental finding that serves as a breakthrough for superior decision making.


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