Digital Disruptions: The 4 7 10 Effect

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A picture speaks a thousand words and a movie perhaps speaks thousands of pictures. One basic requirement with photography (especially motion pictures) was that of a screen, to project the images (whether still or motion pictures). Similarly, the advent of television necessitated the requirement to build electronic displays for commercial use, which till then had been restricted to the realm of laboratories (anybody remember Cathode Ray Oscilloscopes)? The march of technology was relentless. Initial displays, which were based on Cathode Ray Tubes (CRT) technology gave way to flat screen displays. Tube based technology eventually has given way to LCD, LED and Plasma technology based displays which are commonly seen today.

The context above mainly refers to displays or screens for viewership of individuals or small groups at a time (and therefore excludes for example cinema theaters). In the ‘personal screens’ space, two electronic gadgets occupied center stage for the most part of the twenty years between 1990 and 2010: Television and Personal Computers. One interesting point about these was the screen size. Barring a few exceptions (such as the failed netbooks experiment), a typical screen size for a computer monitor was 14 to 17 inches, while for television it was often 20 inches and above.

Put together, in those twenty years, computers and television occupied a very large percentage of “screen time” in terms of viewership percentages.

Enter the disruptions. The latter half of the decade between 2000 and 2010 saw the introduction of smaller screen based devices: smartphones and tablets. Ranging in size from around 4 to 5 inches for smartphones and 7 to 10 inches for tablets, these devices have disrupted the personal screens market in more ways than anticipated.

The most important data point: Screen time (viewership percentages) for smartphones and tablets in most countries of the world has already exceeded the screen time for computers and television. [Reference: KPCB report on Internet Trends, 2014 & 2015]. We need to remember that this is a data point and not a prediction any more. The era of “mobile first” is not futuristic, it has already arrived. Smartphones and tablets are now the primary mechanism to access digital content including the web, social media and just about anything that can be accessed using a mobile application. Mobile first has several interesting implications across industry sectors and focus areas. Here are three of my predictions.

  1. Advertising: Why would any brand want to spend millions of dollars on television and print ads when viewership is declining? Digital advertising will disrupt this industry in a big way. Ads on social networks such as Facebook and Twitter are increasingly common today. Mobile applications displaying little ads at the bottom of the screen are also increasingly common. With digital advertising, we can expect ads to have three basic features: personalization, context, and timing.


  1. Consumer Engagement: Again, why would any brand want to spend millions on one-way communication with consumers, when the small screen devices make it so easy to engage with consumers in a bi-directional dialogue? It is only a matter of time before consumer communication will get transformed to Digital Consumer Engagement with smartphones and tablets being at the center of the engagement strategy.


  1. Customer Experience: The digital world is not about a pure digital experience but the seamless combination of the digital and physical world. A scenario such as customer initiating a transaction on a smartphone, continuing it in a retail store and completing it online again on a tablet will become increasingly common. We have entered the age of Omni Channel Customer Experience.


As I write this, the news comes in that one of India’s leading e-commerce platforms is moving to a mobile only model. What makes this interesting is that a lot of companies are yet to come to terms with and execute the mobile first strategy. The sale of desktops and laptops for most manufacturers is also on the decline. The smaller screens are taking over the computing world.


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