Several excellent studies were released in 2012 highlighting the unprecedented rate of consumer adoption for smartphones and tablets.  The ramp of these technologies—as I’ve written in past posts—is hitting historic levels.  But what exactly is the impact of this growth on the way consumers now use all these devices?  How are habits changing in this new multi-screen, always connected world, where users frequently move across smartphones, tablets, PC’s and TV’s?  An insightful study by Google reveals a whole new range of consumer behaviors that are impacting how marketers and media companies need to think about interacting with users in this new unfolding world.

Today Consumers Move Between Devices to Get Things Done

One striking finding of Google’s multi-screen study is that many activities are rarely limited to just one device.  Nine out of ten consumers are “Sequential Screeners” who use multiple devices to accomplish a goal.  Meaning that if they are booking a flight, researching a new camera or planning a night out on the town, they rarely complete it on only one screen in one sitting.   In addition, 98% of “sequential screeners” start the activity on one device and finish it on another– all in the same day.

Sequential screen on smartphones and tablets is commonAlso, not all activities are equal when it comes to moving from one device to the next. The chart below shows how certain activities- like Social Networking and Online Shopping– are the ones consumers are most likely to be engaged in when sequentially screening:

Smartphone Tablet PC Viewing tasksSearch Is A Key Connector Between Multi-Screen Activities

The study also found that when people use multiple screens sequentially, the “connector” between those sessions– to help them pick up where they left off– is search. 63% have searched on a second device when looking for information, 61% when browsing the internet and 51% when shopping online.

the role of search across devicesWe Are A World Of Multi-Taskers, Using Multiple Screens At Once

In addition to using screens sequentially, it also turns out we spend a lot of time using more then one screen at the same time. For example, 77% of the time consumers are watching TV, they are in fact also using another device. 78% of this simultaneous use is multi-tasking, but it turns out 22% is “complimentary”- meaning that what is viewed on one device, can trigger behavior on another. Watching The Grammy Awards on TV can spur a user to use their mobile phone to comment on Twitter. Seeing a familiar actress on a series can prompt a laptop search of IMDB to check out her other shows. Other interesting combinations are emerging, like researching a restaurant on a laptop, then searching for its location on a smartphone in Google maps to find later.

MultiScreen usage simultaneouslySmartphones Are Now The Core Of Our Daily Media Engagement

Because they are almost always with us, Smartphones have the highest rates of engagement during the day, and most often serve as the starting point for tasks and activities that we do across multiple screens. They are a hub for information searches, shopping, travel planning, managing finances and social networking. In many cases these tasks are then continued on a PC, but increasingly the tablet is the next sequential device for activities like social networking or watching videos.

smartphone is most common starting place for online activitiesThe Take-Away? Marketers and Publishers Need To Build Their Strategies Around The New Multi-Screen Reality

One of the clear implications of all this is that the rapidly evolving interplay between how consumers use all these devices is far more complicated then most marketers understand.  Consumers juggle these four screens in many ways throughout the day depending on the activity they’re engaged in and what they are trying to get done.  Targeting ads to these devices individually, without a deeper understanding of how they are all inter-connected throughout the day, means a major missed opportunity. In addition, given that smartphones are often the starting point for content consumption– which then continues across larger screens- publishers and site designers need to understand the importance of creating web experiences that they work seamlessly across these varied formats. And finally, web companies need to understand that sequential usage means it’s important to let users save their progress between devices- whether via shopping carts, email sign-in, or widgets that enable consumers to send a progress email back to themselves to pick up where they were. All in all, this explosion of devices is quickly changing the world as we knew it, and you’ll need to pay close attention to make sure you don’t get left behind….