OPINION3 February 2016

Laptops are dead, long live mobiles

Mobile Opinion UK

Mobile-first means creating digital strategies that assume consumers will primarily be using a smartphone to interact with brands. By Steve Mellor


Rewind a few years to 2007 when we all used desktops and laptops to access the internet. That year Apple launched the iPhone, and a year later HTC introduced the first Android smartphone (The Dream). In 2008 apps were first used and in 2010 the iPad was launched.

Fast forward to the latest figures for device penetration and we see that smartphones are used by 76% of people in the UK, tablets by 50% – both growing – while laptop/desktop penetration is 58% and has been declining since 2014 (sources: emarketer /mintel/statistica). Smartphones have now overtaken laptops as the most important device for connecting to the internet in the UK (Ofcom Communications Market Report 2015 ).

The simple truth is that people probably won’t replace their current laptop, or even bother to buy one in the first place.

Why do people need a laptop anymore?

This came into sharp focus recently when I was giving my son’s friend a lift home from school and he was complaining that he had to buy a laptop for schoolwork. He argued that he didn’t know how to use one and neither did his parents – there was no laptop in the home and they had never needed one. All of the internet driven activity was carried out on smartphone and tablet.

And in recent research we have been speaking to people who do not own a laptop and never intend to buy one. Why should they? The laptop has become a work machine, a machine for the school, university or office. If one doesn’t do any of those things, now that smartphones and tablets allow internet access, why buy one?

That trend is also appearing at the other end of the age spectrum with retirees. They are beginning to embrace tablets and smartphones, while ditching the cumbersome laptop.

You may ask, so what?

A good question. Another good question is ‘It’s simple to optimise desktop webpages to mobile screens, so what else do I need to think about?’ I think there are quite a few issues around marketing strategy that marketers may take for granted, but market researchers should question:

Email. Brands should seriously question using email as a communication channel. It was invented for work and delivers information in a slow, cumbersome way. Email boxes are bulging at the seams while increasingly we use messaging apps and social media to communicate on our smartphones. Emails are associated with spam, junk and work. The only reason younger people put up with it, is because older people still use it.

Display advertising. Display advertising targets consumers brilliantly via mobile, but how is it perceived by users? By its nature, mobile is a personal device with a small screen that we use habitually for short periods of time. This means that banner ads in web pages are interruptions to the browsing. People put up with it and it irritates them.

Mobile video advertising. With the advent of place-shifting, rise of OTT, YouTube and Chromecast, in future people will be consuming video on demand more often on smartphones and will be exposed to more video advertising which has a greater capacity to deliver enjoyable ads. A mobile first strategy should consider that scaling TV ads to suit mobile may be a better spend of budget than banners or MPU.

Voice is increasingly being used to search – ask any parent and they will tell you that kids who use tablets (many too young to read and write) have been using voice for many years and this behaviour has gradually become normalised. A mobile-first strategy should assume that voice input will be a more prominent way to interact with brands via mobile than typed input.

This presents opportunities for brands to use location based approaches in a huge range of scenarios: in retail, grocery, while travelling, at cinemas and so on. With beacon technology being introduced in 2016 in the UK, it’s a great opportunity for a mobile-first strategy.

As laptops are increasingly consigned to business use we will need to redesign websites – no clicking into sub menus, but much more swiping left and right to navigate between pages, and more tapping/pinching to access content.

Steve Mellor is managing director of Clicked 


9 years ago | 1 like

You are obviously not a movie watcher. It's a right pain trying to get any video material of any length into a mobile phone. With a laptop its in the CD player and away you go. I keep wondering why I ever bought a tablet?

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9 years ago | 1 like

Steve I totally agree with you and having come back from India recently, I saw the shift there where the mobile is the primary device for communication, web interaction and commerce. However, the one thing publishers, agencies and advertisers will need to grapple with is the plethora of ad-blockers as this is going to be a challenge in mobile advertising.

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9 years ago

Good point of view Steve. I had to read it through a couple of times as clearly if the world of tech started equal and mobiles, tablets and laptops went on sale now we would see them sell at their true market rates of uptake, I wouldnt say laptops are declining because there is anything wrong with them, only that they are being replaced where its easier to use a phone or a tablet. Certainly in a workplace laptops still reign supreme, but even at home if editing photos, working up a new website etc you would be better served with intricate controls, keyboard short cuts etc. The India mobile thing is interesting, as I understand it, the reason for mobile integration is more to do with them skipping the laptop generation altogether - affordable phones vs expensive laptops meant they jumped from expensive desktops to mobile internet in a different way to people in the UK would have.

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9 years ago

I guess the point I was making isn't really that there is anything wrong with laptops - as you say they serve their purpose very well. The core issue is that there are a growing number of people in the UK who never use them at all and for whom existing marketing strategies and techniques need a rethink. Steve

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9 years ago

"Laptops are dead..." Really not the best start to an article. Because, as is clear from user experience knowledge, and from uptake figures, it's not the case. So, how about "laptop sales are slowing, but the essential nature of devices, that mobile comes first and computer follows, means that mobile has a greater reach". Not as catchy, but it's a heck of a lot more accurate. As pointed out below, computers are still the device of choice for video, banking, ecommerce, emails and documents. Mobile is still a long way off surplanting computers or laptops in those spaces, as the form factor runs up against basic human traits, such as the size of a finger in relation to screen size.

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9 years ago

Hi Nick, yes laptops are not dead! Attention grabbing headline I agree. But the uptake figures of laptops speak for themselves - they are falling. You have also missed the main issue - that in future there will be a larger cohort of people who never own or use a laptop / desktop. I would disagree with you that computers are the device of choice for banking - Statista figures at March 2015 show that 77% of 18-44 yr people in the UK use mobile banking once a week or more. Mcommerce is growing depending on the shape of the purchase journey. A complex journey may warrant a laptop (if one is owned) to evaluate options, but the everyday purchases are migrating to tablets and smartphones.Steve

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