Mobile devices have not supplanted laptops, yet

Survey showing 90% access Web via mobile is skewed, but not completely wrong

In case you were worried by headlines that say more than 90 percent of users now access the Web more often using mobile devices than laptops or desktops -- we haven't hit the tipping point beyond which every IT system you build has to be mobile first and anything else second.

The stories are based on the latest edition of a survey by Opera Software, which posted the latest edition of its State of the Mobile Web this morning.

The survey included more than 300,000 people, so the sample size is a lot better than most of the surveys you see in the tech business. The clearest results, in this edition at least, focus on users aged between 18 and 27. That's a prime demographic because they're the ones whose computing proclivities you're going to have to support in a couple of years, and for whom you'd better start planning.

They're not the core population in most U.S.-based companies, though.

All the respondents were users of Opera Mini, which was designed for smartphones -- although the survey also said many were using older phones-- so there's a bias in the survey population that pretty well invalidates the mobile/stationary question in the first place.

And, most of the respondents live in countries other than the U.S.

Normally that would give a satisfyingly international picture of mobile IT use. In this case the way cell networks developed in other countries is so different that the use model is still very different from what you see in the U.S.

In India, Indonesia, Nigeria and South Africa, more than 90 percent of respondents said they use mobile more than stationary hardware. The majority of U.S. -based users also use mobile more often (they're Opera Mini users, remember), but the split is 51 percent/49 percent.

So you don't have to come back from Thanksgiving with a mobile strategy and short list of providers in hand, ready to launch the pilot projects to shift the whole company over to iPhones or Androids or Win7 phones.

It does mean you'd better accelerate whatever plans were shaping up in the back of your head, or the CIO's, or the CFO's. Because those 18-27-year-olds are not just the next big wave of recruits, they're the next big wave of computing and your infrastructure is going to have to be flexible and dynamic enough to satisfy expectations you may not even understand yet.

Their expectations are as different from yours as yours were from the mainframe guys or early client/server and LAN managers when you first started. The expectation gap is as wide as when you realized the old(er)-timers were surprised that users thought email that goes outside the company was more important than the kind that stays inside, or that access to the Internet isn't just an excuse to waste time (not just an excuse to waste time).

I hate to tout vendors as good case studies because they're more willing to spend on technology than most non-IT companies and the environment of a place dominated by computer engineers is much different that one ruled by accountants.

Intel's experience is pretty telling, though. The company's internal IT people were surprised to find there were employees who were constantly mobile, but almost never left the campus. They just moved from conference room to business-unit suite to work with different groups and almost never came back to their offices.

They were shocked that employees would spend their own money on phones that support the right mobile components to be able to connect to the corporate network securely, if IT would just tell them what those requirements were.

Employees were surprised to find IT doing more than saying 'No' and going out of its way to make user-classifications more flexible to make getting the right technology simpler, and offering more convenient ways to do things they were already doing using methods they'd kludged up themselves.

IT and end users seem to be working together a lot more smoothly, and not just because they get to play with all the best new technology.

No one would admit whether they actually had these guys delivering the mail or if they'd ever been able to make that robot's emotional state more stable. Some secrets they keep to themselves.

So if you were going off to Thanksgiving thinking you and your company were both way behind the rest of the country in using outmoded laptops or desktops instead of cool mobile stuff to access the Web more often, don't worry. We haven't reached the tipping point yet. Morgan Stanley predicted in April it would happen in 2015.

It looks like the market is moving faster than that, though, and from IT's perspective, balance is already starting to shift. If you don't start to adjust pretty quickly, it might upend you as well as the market.

Kevin Fogarty writes about enterprise IT for ITworld. Follow him on Twitter @KevinFogarty.

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