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Siblings No More: Is There a Mobile Divide We Didn’t Know Existed?

Jul 2, 2012

By: Vanessa Horwell, Chief Visibility Officer 

Smartphones and tablets. Tablets and smartphones. Let the words play together in your mouth and vibrate your eardrum long enough and you’ll begin to think of them as siblings, perhaps an older (albeit shorter and stouter) brother and younger, taller and lankier family member.

At least that’s how I’ve come to think of them. While I’ve recently written articles for clients and elsewhere that focus on tablet specifics out of a fear that their growing importance has been overshadowed by smartphones, I still refer to them as “companion devices.”

But Steve Smith’s well-written article gives all of us media professionals and everyday tech users alike, interesting food for thought. Maybe smartphones and tablets aren’t siblings after all, but instead just relatives. Think about Apple and its iPhone and iPad. On first inspection both devices are designed with similar operating systems and are made by the same “parents” (Apple and it’s IT department in conjunction with its design/marketing team). But on closer inspection, perhaps the two devices are more like first cousins – similar bloodlines, but made from different aunts and uncles.

The Rosetta data Smith cites confirms that if anything, tablets and televisions are more “companionable” devices than smartphones and tablets. While Smith frets (but ultimately accepts) the cost and complication of further splicing and dicing, segmenting and sectioning the type of media fit for specific devices in order to maximize user demographics and time of day, it’s important to remember that a similar granular approach is occurring in all digital media. Retailers for instance, via metrics gathering, (both through traditional surveys and questionnaires but also through smartphones and digital signage) are able to determine what a shopper buys, their likes and dislikes, the times they choose to shop and the digital medium they prefer to receive engaging offers.

But digital didn’t get there by itself. It too, has parents: analog television and its content producers and market analysts. Think about The Weather Channel – a pioneer not only in 24-hour weather news and information, but equally groundbreaking in its ability to segment its non-stop programming for different groups: from parents dressing their kids for school, to weekend getaways and holiday forecasts, to emergency coverage and most recently its growing expansion of infotainment weather series like Coast Guard Alaska, It Could Happen Tomorrow and Storm Riders. At 30-years-old The Weather Channel, (now in HD) is a leader proving again and again that one size does not fit all. The same rule applies when it comes to our everywhere and anywhere mobile devices.

One thing’s certain. Smartphones and tablets aren’t going anywhere – except into our pockets and carrying cases in record numbers. So as we begin to recognize the array of differences between smartphone and tablets, we should remember not to always write about them in single articles or refer to them as “companion devices.”

Smartphones and tablets. Tablets and smartphones. Let the words play together in your mouth and vibrate off that inner ear once again and you might hear something different: they only share four letters in common. And maybe that’s the symbolic point.

I’m certainly hearing, seeing and thinking something different after reading Smith’s article and writing my own response. What do you think? Are smartphones and tablets brothers, sisters, fraternal twins, best friends, worst enemies, distant relatives or something entirely different? Sound off and chime in through whichever device and medium suits you best.

Just remember, like smartphones and tablets, “play” nicely in your feedback.

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