Signs of Change: Smartphones More Personal Than the PC?

For years my daily end-of-work-day routine was power off the laptop, pack it up, go home, unpack it and turn it back on. Now I do this so rarely that I can leave the laptop at the office (wouldn't that be a great marketing slogan?) most nights and never even miss it. And the 7-year-old desktop in our home library gets booted up so rarely I keep forgetting the password.

How is this possible? What changed so much that these once indispensable tools are becoming so peripheral to my life? 

According to Lifehacker editor Adam Pash, Your Smartphone Is a Better PC than Your PC Ever Was or Will Be. His premise is controversial and debatable, but has an undeniable nugget of truth to it. And it has huge ramifications for our industry.

Pash is not the first to make this argument. The core of his argument is that regardless of how good it is as a computer, the smartphone is far better at the "personal" part of "Personal Computer":
And from a computing perspective, what's more personal than a gadget that:
  • ...comes with you wherever you go
  • ...knows where you are
  • always connected to the internet
  • ...handles every form of electronic communication short of Morse code (oh wait)
  • ...recognizes your voice and reacts accordingly
  • ...doesn't just spellcheck, but corrects your typos

And he's right; that is a highly personal relationship to have with a computer. It beats out my laptop by being easier to bring with and access on the go, and being more specialized for the "personal" tasks. Much of the debate missed this point, though, saying things like:
If my iPhone is so much better, why does it need my PC in order to do something as simple as delete a song?
This commenter is confusing function with message, in a McLuhan sense, however. He wants something that can be achieved with a simple software tweak. What's more important is that of the over 15GB music library on my computer, less than 2%  makes it onto the "personal" playlist that goes in my pocket.

Another commenter makes the case for the laptop as a "BC" - business computer - instead of PC; I like that distinction, with the BC being the high-powered, high-performance machine I use for specific tasks, and the PC being the maybe not-as-powerful but more personal smartphone that is always within reach. Of course, as the same commenter pointed out, "...the line between business and personal is becoming blurred for a lot of people these days - my business is my business, and that is personal to me."  (My favorite part of this comment is that we often "forget that most people use their PCs for exactly the things that smartphones do well. Most people don't photoshop -- they just shop.")

The Problem - and Opportunity - For Marketers

The opportunity this presents us is what this commenter hinted at; there is not a clear distinction between "personal" and "business". Social media is blending them even further, because most people use a single Facebook account both for catching up with friends and making professional connections, but the key to selling to architects has always involved developing a personal connection; become their Go-To Guy and you're much more likely to get specced.

If both these points are true - that it takes personal connections to get specified, and the smartphone is more personal - then it stands to reason that reaching specifiers through their smartphones will help you get specified.

There are many ways to make these mobile connections, but how do you take advantage of this smartphone/PC issue?
  1. Optimize your website. There's a reason this goes first: it's the most basic and obvious way to start reaching mobile clients and prospects. If you have a smartphone-friendly website, or at least a useful landing page, they will go to your site. If not, they will go to whichever one of your competitors does.
  2. Live in the cloud. Lack of processing power is one of the biggest obstacles to smartphone use. Typing a short email is fine, but large-scale graphic design or data manipulation will overtax the smartphone's capabilities (or the user's patience). Cloud computing presents a way around this limit by moving the heavy lifting to a more robust server. What cloud-based utility can you offer your clients that they can access from their smartphone? There is a lot of fertile ground not just in developing new services, but making existing services more mobile.
  3. Know what belongs on the PC. One thing many of the commenters - and the author - agreed on is there are certain tasks that are still better on the full-sized keyboard-mouse-and-monitor machines (KMMM?). If the task involves heavy data entry, large graphics, frequent searches, or intense reading, it should still be on the KMMM. The mobile site should make it easy to transfer the experience to a PC, along with essential data. Don't make them fill out the same form twice.
  4. Be reachable via mobile. One advantage of smartphones is the ease with which they switch between communication media. A single interaction could start on Twitter before moving to a phone call, sent photos, streaming live video, file transfer, and back to Twitter. Know what communication tools your clients use, download the mobile versions, and become familiar with their capabilities. 
The desktop and laptop computer will be with us for a long time, even as our definition of "desktop" (or "computer") changes. But just as email once dethroned the telephone as the primary business communication tool, the smartphone is a disruptive technology that is changing the way we do business and form relationships. Taking advantage of the enhanced personal touch it provides can help your products get in - and stay in - your clients' specs.