Skip to content

Mobile's not eating the world; it’s eating our days

The Moment economy, and how we live now

Editor's note: The following is an edited summary of the presentation given by Michael Winnick to Greylock Partners at #ProductSF 2016 in November.

Our days have changed more quickly in the last five years than even in the previous fifty. As researchers, we are intensely curious about these changes and spend an enormous amount of time to understand them. It's not just about mobile research trends: It's about digging into what people are doing, and why they are doing it.

Of course, tech companies are curious, too -- but that understanding is usually expressed in big data. That data ultimately leads us to even more questions. This research of the “why” has always been about getting a real sense of reality.

Historically, however, we had to use such artificial means to get there. Today, we have all of sorts of new tools at our disposal. We can actually track what people are doing and then ask, at critical moments in their lives, about their actual thought processes in real-time.

Here's an example. We’ve all heard some very broad statistics about mobile use; one study says we touch our phones 150 times a day. At dscout, we had all sort of questions about that statistic, especially a curiosity of what that really looks like and how it plays out in people's lives.

We decided to do our own mobile research trends study to answer these questions, and so we counted everything our participants did on their phones. (By my own calculations, I've touched my phone about fifteen million times.) Then we asked them some questions about it. Based on that study, I’m not sure if mobile is eating the world, but it’s definitely eating our day. And it's eating it in a series of very small plates.

Best friends vs. employees

In our study, we tracked session usage, and we learned that more than 80 percent of our touches are on apps controlled by Google or Facebook. So just a few apps are controlling most of our usage. That leftover 20 percent? It's kind of pretty slim pickings.

Another way to think about it is that there are at least two types of apps.

There are what we're calling "best friend" apps. Like Facebook. The basic model of a best friend app is one that has a tremendous number of interactions of continuous low value.We have 24-hour usage curves that look pretty consistent hour by hour, with very few spikes. It's just "How's it going? Let's hang out! Oh my God!"

Best friends are the big winners. But people don't need that many best friends. So, it's a best friend competition, and it’s brutal.

Then, there are the "employee" apps. Our relationship with them is more about invoking them at certain moments for certain needs. Uber, for instance, spikes at very specific times. Netflix, too.

There are rules for employees that are quite different than the best friend model of constant low-value interaction. In the employee model, you're flipping that around. You're actually looking for few interactions of higher value.

As an employee, part of your role is not to assume the clothing of the best friend. To not over-communicate with people. To not pretend that your model isn't something it isn’t.

Most apps are more akin to an employee than a best friend. If you're an employee, you really need to know what your moment is. Really think about what are your moments of the day, where do you slot in, and when are you called. What's that's moment trigger and why? What's your competition at that moment?

You've got to understand that moment. This is what the moment economy actually looks and feels like: These are the tiny little things that we're grabbing onto and competing for.

Five More Years

The cool thing about this, is that this map is probably going to look totally different in five years. Will smartphones still be the dominant thing? What does this look like in a world of virtual reality and the IOT? Have we reached peak interactions? Or are we just at a temporary plateau?

Personally, I can’t wait to see how it all unfolds.

Want to learn more about mobile research trends? Check out our Mobile Touches study.

Michael Winnick is the CEO and founder of dscout. Since the platform's founding, research leaders have tapped Michael’s personal passion for harnessing context-rich, human insight to drive innovation.

Michael previously served as gravitytank’s managing partner, steering the innovation consultancy through continuous growth for nearly a decade, prior to its acquisition by Salesforce. He’s led product development at Bay Area start-ups and media companies, including WIRED.

Subscribe To People Nerds

A weekly roundup of interviews, pro tips and original research designed for people who are interested in people

The Latest