The Smallest Screen Wins

Once upon a time, movies and television competed for our attention by touting which screen was better, the big screen for films in a theater or the smaller one on the wall of our living room.

Today, though, there's no debate. Regardless of where you are, the winner goes to the smallest screen of all: the one on our mobile device.

Just look at the statistics. According to, the annual shipment of smart phones around the world in 2014 is expected to reach 1.3 billion new units, a dramatic increase from only 174 million in 2005. Looking out farther, growth looks unabated, with total shipments in 2018 forecast to hit 1.8 billion.

Clearly, small screens on smart phones and tablets continue to push the frontiers.

And the app is where it's at ... driving the small screen to such prominence, not just chit chat.

If you needed hard evidence, look at the exponential growth of the App Store. Dan Rowinski, former mobile editor at ReadWrite and now editor-in-chief at Applause, writes:

"The Apple App Store launched in July 2008, a year after the first iPhone was released. It had 500 apps and, to many, was a revelation. It also signaled the dominance of the native mobile application. 10 million applications were downloaded in the first weekend."

So it's no wonder that mobile app usage has become a key tool for measuring digital growth and usage of that small screen on our handheld digital device.

In fact, comScore -- the research company that looks at how people navigate the digital world -- makes a dramatic point when it talks about mobile devices, digital platforms and skyrocketing app usage in its 2014 study:

"American's don't just download apps regularly, but they use them regularly, too. More than half (57 percent) of smartphone users accessed apps every single day of a given month, and 79 percent of users accessed apps at least 26 days per month."

The comScore research goes on to focus on who is leading the pack and setting the trend:

"According to comScore Mobile Matrix data, those between the ages of 25-34 spend more time on mobile apps than any other age segment examined - slightly edging out the younger 18-24 year-old demographic. At 75 hours of mobile app usage per month, the 25-34 year-old age group topped those ages 35-54 and those 55 and older by nearly 11 hours and 25 hours per month, respectively."

Once again, Millennials - in their late 20s and 30s - lead the way, driving mobile in much the same way that they drive all things digital. After all, digital is their world and they demand the most.

Their smart phones are always close at hand. At work. At play. Never beyond reach. And even at the dinner table.

Think about Thanksgiving or the December holidays. How many smart phones rest aside the dinner plate or on laps? Whether turned silent or on vibrate, they still can't be missed.

When I speak with my millennial kids about the impact of smart phones. they're very realistic about some of the pluses and minuses:

  • Love 'em and hate 'em - Sometimes they hate getting text messages. Those texts seem to be an intrusion, demanding a reply. But, even when they ignore them, they'd never do without them.

  • Fast and furious - It's great for quick access to information, shopping and the latest news. But it can be a distraction.
  • The social of social networking - Smart phones are their social device, not a desktop. Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat, to name a few, are favorites for mobile.
  • Real friends - In spite of countless online "friends," they are very aware of how much they value those with whom they can have face-to-face personal discussions about substantive things.
  • The lesson from screen size, smart phones and apps is our penchant to adopt and adapt. Like almost everything in life, the pendulum swings. With time, we reach a natural balance. Some developments endure. Others fall by the wayside. Adopters become discarders. Then innovation triumphs again.

    We should expect nothing less for the future of digital. Just as Henry David Thoreau wrote in Walden, more than 150 years ago:

    "Every generation laughs at the old fashions, but follows religiously the new."