404 The Challenge Competing on Mobile

The Challenge Competing on Mobile

The mobile industry is one of the most fascinating and one of the most complicated markets to study. The mobile platform is without question THE key platform for many companies. It seems like not a month goes by that we don’t read reports of how much money a company is making in mobile. For every one company succeeding in mobile, there are countless others who are failing. Competing in mobile is a challenge. This challenge often gets overlooked. The biggest challenge for companies competing for mobile eyeballs is not as much in relation to other competitors, but it is in relation to time.

While the mobile screen is always with us, for many, it is not the only screen we look at and more to the point it is not the one we stare at for the longest periods of time. This is the advantage products like the PC and now the tablet has. While they may not be the most portable, they are the ones many look at for longer periods of time. There are certain consumers, like many in emerging markets, which are mobile only. The smartphone is the only screen they look at. However, due to the nature of the mobile device, even that screen time is still limited. The challenge for anyone competing in mobile is to grab a sliver of the time spent using a mobile device. This time is finite and currently dominated by a few competitors and tasks.

I find it helpful to frame my point as a pie chart. More data exists on US consumer smartphone behavior than in markets where smartphones are the only computers owned. I’d love more data like this on emerging markets but have not found reliable statistics yet. But for US consumers Harvard Business Review compiled some research and produced the following chart.

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A study was released middle of last year stating that Americans on average use their smartphones for 58 minutes a day. That has likely not changed too much so let’s use the assumption that American consumers use their smartphones for a grand total of an hour each day. Using HBR’s study as a baseline, then any social app is competing with other social apps for 11.4 minutes of time. Facebook would probably be the market share leader likely occupying anywhere from 8-10 minutes of that social time. Meaning a new entrant either needs to try and steal time from Facebook or is competing for a little over 1 min of possible time/share.

Competing in mobile is difficult. Consumers have developed habits. Those habits will tend to lean toward a few apps they use in certain situations or when they are in certain contexts. Just like market share statistics in any category, these certain apps have the market share of a consumer’s time. Competitors either need to steal time from dominant apps or get the owner to start dedicating more time to their smartphone usage.

The share of mobile time spent using a device creates challenges for competitors in every market. In western markets the best chance to compete is to not only target the smartphone with an app or service but to target all three, or four, screens a consumer may own or use. If a significant amount of daily compute time is spread across devices like a PC, tablet, smartphone, and even the PC, then a competitors best chance is to create experiences that span all those screens.

Similarly in emerging markets the challenge may be even greater because mobile is the dominant platform for now. Solutions don’t have the luxury of creating a service that spans many screens as they have to only target one–the main one–the smartphone. While mobile in emerging markets is competitive, it also favors a few key dominant players. I don’t see that changing any time soon.