Reflections on Google’s New Multi-Screen World Study

Screens. What does that bring to mind? Media such as TVs? Or perhaps movies, as in "the big screen"? What about computers or laptops? Tablets / iPads? What about your smart phone?

Consider your day for a moment.

How many times do you work on your computer during the day? What about your tablet? How often do you pick up your phone to do a quick internet search or find a store nearby? Do you play on your phone while watching TV?

Google asked these questions in their study "The New Multi-Screen World Study: Understanding Cross-platform Consumer Behavior," published in 2012.

Why am I talking about this on a UX blog? Because there are some incredibly valuable lessons to be learned about when and how people view your website/app/thing-you-designed-to-be-viewed-on-a-screen.

In fact, before you read anymore of my post, open up Google's study and read it. It's an easy read with lots of pictures and useful conclusions. No fancy academic verbiage, just the stuff you need to know.


Ok, here are my thoughts.

First, I want to know why did people switch from one device to another during an activity? For instance, what motivated people shopping on a tablet to switch to a computer to complete the task? Was it because the shopping website they were looking at didn’t let them do what they wanted to on a tablet but they knew it would work on a PC? If that’s the case, there is likely to be a percentage of people who just didn't finish the task at all because it required switching devices.

Those are lost sales.

That, my friend, is a very strong incentive to apply user experience design principles to the mobile experience of your site/app. In particular, consider applying a "mobile first" design philosophy as outlined in Luke Wroblewski's book Mobile First or learn more about responsive web design to help you give all your site's users a great experience.

Which brings me to my second thought.

Google looked at how people keep track of their activity while moving from one device to another. Methods included:

  • Search again on second device
  • Directly navigating to the destination site
  • Via email / sending a link to myself

Since switching between devices seems to be a prevalent course of action, what can we do to ease that transition?

Remember, easing the transition = less audience loss = more sales!

What if you had a "universal account" linked to all your devices such that you could retrieve the state of one device while on a different device? Imagine playing around on your iPhone but the battery dies and ... you can't find your charger. You really want to continue reading that awesome UX blog post ... but you can't remember the URL. Just pick up your iPad and click the "get current browser state from iPhone" button.

Ta-da! Problem solved.

[The cloud is a big idea currently. Probably someone has done this already. But, if not, get to it!]

The authors of Google's study saw this potential as well, as they concluded:

The prevalence of sequential usage makes it imperative that businesses enable customers to save their progress between devices. Saved shopping carts, “signed-in” experiences or the ability to email progress to oneself helps keep consumers engaged, regardless of device used to get to you.

My next thought stems from this quote from a participant of the study: "I do find myself being distracted from what I’m watching a lot more, now that I have these devices. I’ll find myself, just out of habit, picking up the touchpad or the phone and deciding to search on the internet for a little bit. I’ve never understood why I do it, but I just do it in the middle of a TV show, and start searching... It’s frustrating that I do it though, because you feel like you don’t stay as engaged with the show that you’re watching.” - Bradley

Now here I'm going to wander off UX for a moment.

My reaction to this quote is that TV programs need to be more engaging and thought-provoking in order to have any chance at all to compete. Mobile phones, laptops and tablets are much more interactive. If you're not communicating with viewers on an intellectual level they're going to turn elsewhere to keep a dialog open.

Based on the sheer percentage of multi-screening happening with one device as a TV, I'd say that TV stations and advertisers are losing the focus and attention of their audience.

Personally, I think there needs to be more TV for "smart people." Catering to the lowest common denominator (as seems to be the current state) means losing the complete attention of smarter folks. [Note the popularity of the Colbert Report and the Daily Show as preferred news sources.]

Additionally, shows and advertisers could (and do I’m sure) consider ways to purposefully engage viewers simultaneously on other devices. For instance, someone could watch a show about X and at the same time search for more info about X on that show’s website. Advertisers could think this way about it: "we know you’re going to use your tablet while watching our show, let’s see if we can get that use to be in our favor."

Again, the authors of the report seem to come to a similar conclusion:

Most of the time when TV is watched, another screen is being used. These instances present the opportune time to convey your message and inspire action. A business’s TV strategy should be closely aligned and integrated with the marketing strategies for digital devices.

Those are some of my thoughts. What are yours? Please share in the comments below.

The post was spawned by an assignment in Aquent's Responsive Web Design class--which I highly recommend if you want to know more.