If Smartphone Use is Frictionless, Why Isn’t the Smartphone?

Mar 26, 2018

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Article ImageTechnology has advanced to make it easier to buy things, get places, and split tabs. But finding content we love is still comparatively arduous. Technologies like Google Maps, Uber, and Venmo have revolutionized our expectations for seamless navigation, convenience in travel and delivery services, and payment. We expect to transfer cash without leaving the house, hail a cab without raising our hand or reaching for our wallets, and order pizza without speaking to a human. These everyday processes have become frictionless. However, when it comes to content, we’re still surprisingly tolerant of the status quo. It doesn’t seem to bother us that we have to swipe and tap around on our smartphones to find the content we want in those moments when we want it most.

Let’s explore why and how content discovery can catch up. Consumers increasingly want content to find them, to deliver diversion in those “snackable” moments when they’re standing in line at the store or waiting for their train to arrive. In order for content consumption to catch up to the evolution we’ve seen in other industries, we need technology that’s able to predict when we are free to enjoy it, how to present it to us, and what will pique and hold our interest. Our phones seem designed to deliver on that process, so why isn’t it happening yet?

Nearly half of all mobile phone unlocks occur without a particular application in mind, but our smartphones still haven’t figured out what it is we want when we take that action. This opportunity is an open door for the industry to engage users with the content they want in those moments when they unlock their phones “just because.” Rather than just bringing us to the last app we used or our app-dotted home screen, why not deliver the content we want in those “just because” moments?

There is a huge missed opportunity here. When you take friction out, consumption changes. If you make it easier for users to find content they love—or just spoon-feed it to them—they’ll spend more time on their devices. They’ll enjoy their mobiles more. They’ll engage more.

With that in mind, here are a few tips to seize the day, reduce friction, and drive mobile engagement:

  • Recommendations Beat Search Every Time--There’s nothing like the power of suggestion — especially when users aren’t entirely sure what they’re looking for. The purpose of search is to find something specific, so idle users aren’t likely to opt for search as their first action, no matter how prominently it features on their home screen. Curated content apps like Flipboard, news apps like BBC, and others that allow users to select their preferred content remove the friction of search, allowing the user’s preferred content to bubble up – but there’s still friction in the action of finding and opening those apps. When it’s “just because,” the action of locating that app may or may not happen! Google’s new Feed (formerly Google Now) may have been able to supplant search by providing curated recommendations personalized for the user. Given its prominent placement on Android phones, it had the opportunity to become the leader in frictionless content, but changes to its interface have drawn negative criticism. That said, enhanced portals like Google Feed that surface satisfying bites of content quickly and easily are exactly what users crave in those “snackable” moments.  
  • Bite-sized Content Wins the Day--The moments in which we are looking for entertaining, engaging bits of content aren’t long ones. We’re waiting for the subway, waiting for the commercial to end, or waiting for our coffee to appear on the bar. These snippets of time – typically only 30 seconds long – are the ones where we’re most likely to unlock our phones for momentary entertainment. That mobile content has become the “mental spackle” that fills the tiny gaps in our day. But these gaps are the opportunities mobile providers and OEMs can own and use to engage consumers and earn their love. It’s the reason for the popularity of publications like The Skimm, applications like Blinkist, and the ubiquitous meme. Tiny bits of content just satisfy that need for a little brain food.
  • Beating Facebook: Here’s Your Chance! Recently, Facebook changed its algorithms to promote content from friends and devalue content from publishers and news agencies. Guess what? That’s a huge opportunity for carriers to deliver valuable content that users are no longer getting from Facebook. People still want that content! By offering current headlines, lifestyle, and entertainment news from recognized and trusted sources in a frictionless way, carriers have an opportunity to beat Facebook at the frictionless content game.

With obstacles removed from the process of finding content, the benefits for publishers are obvious: users will engage more frequently and meaningfully with their content. Provide easy access to those satisfying bites of content, and they’ll keep coming back. Traffic goes up, app downloads skyrocket, ad revenue increases.

For OEMs and carriers, the opportunity is there to own the frictionless content experience. Consider how users are actually interacting with their devices today. Analyze the ways they’re finding and engaging with content and create experiences that respond to those behaviors. In terms of hardware, there’s only so much more we can do with these slabs of glass and metal we all carry. You can keep improving the cameras, the speakers, the battery life…but that doesn’t fully respond to the ways we actually use our devices every day. Give users the experiences they want by making great, relevant, digestible content easy to find and consume.

Remove the friction so users can easily find satisfying content experiences in the moments they most want them. As so many other industries have already learned, remove the friction, and we all win.

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