Alternative communications tools abound, but email’s popularity remains undimmed.

Email has been with us for decades now — for such a long time that email could be considered as “mature” a communications tool as the conventional telephone.

And yet, even as some older tools decline in use as new communications techniques emerge, email continues to be as popular as ever.

The latest confirmation of this comes from a study of ~1,000 U.S. workers conducted in September 2019 by survey research firm Propeller Insights for app developer Spike. The topline result: of the respondents who use both email and messaging apps, nearly 80% prefer email, as compared to only around 20% who prefer the messaging apps.

Not surprisingly, older workers embrace e-mail more than younger ones do — both in terms of preference and usage. Even so, e-mail reigns supreme in terms of usage across all age groups, with messaging apps, the telephone, in-person conversations and video conferencing (in that order) lagging behind.

As for male versus female respondents; their usage and preferences are roughly similar, with perhaps a feather on the scale for males in favor of email communications.

Furthermore, what comes through loud and clear from the study is that people are tired of juggling multiple channels of communication, with nearly nine in ten respondents stating that switching between apps affects their productivity adversely in one or more ways.

The following reasons were cited as contributing to their reluctance to switch between various communication and collaboration tools:

  • Makes it harder to find information: ~21%
  • Creates too many mixed communications: ~21%
  • Slows down productivity: ~18%
  • Wastes time: ~17%
  • Is a major distraction: ~13%

Related to these downsides, more than two-thirds reported that they would welcome having an app that combines all emails and messaging.

Whether or not a combo app is something that becomes available, anyone expecting email to decline precipitously as a preferred method of communications in the coming years is likely to be disappointed.

What are your practices regarding email, messaging apps and other communications methods? Are they substantially different from the Propeller survey results? Please share your thoughts with other readers.

Like synthetic fabrics, synthetic media has its good and bad attributes.

Decades ago, people had a choice of cloth fibers like cotton, wool and silk. Each of these natural cloths had positive attributes … as well as negative ones, too.

Cotton is comfortable to wear, but wrinkles when washed. Wool is great for the cold weather months, but needs to be dry-cleaned.  Too, moths and other insects love to burrow their way through woolen clothing, making many an item made from wool ready for the trash far too soon.

Silk? It has all the detriments of cotton and wool without any of the positives — except that it looks rich and expensive if one wishes to put on airs or otherwise “make a statement.”

Beginning in the 1940s, polyesters and other synthetic fibers were introduced, giving rise to all sorts of new clothing items that touted a variety of positive attributes: They washed up fine, didn’t need ironing, and kept their shape over time.

Never mind the fact that the clothing didn’t breathe, and made more than a few people stink to the heavens after wearing a synthetic cloth shirt for barely an hour on a hot summer day.

Along these same lines, today we have synthetic media. It’s essentially how people and machines are collaborating to create media that is algorithmically created (or modified).

In its earliest incarnations, synthetic media was a blend of “real” and “faux” components. Think of a newscast with your favorite, very real anchor person … but the background, screens and graphics are computer-generated.

But things have gone much further than that in recent times. Text, photography and videos are being created by software with such precision and seeming authenticity that it’s nearly impossible to determine what content is “real” versus what has been “synthesized.”

On the plus side, content can be automatically translated and delivered in multiple languages to different audiences spanning the world, bringing more news and information to more people simultaneously. But what if the avatar (host) could be customized to be more “familiar” to different audiences — and therefore more engaging and believable to them?

There’s a flipside to all of this innovation. So-called “deepfakes” (a recent term that took no time at all to be added to the major dictionary databases) harness digital technology to superimpose faces onto video clips in ways that are so realistic, they appear to be totally authentic.

Considering the advances in the technology, one can only imagine the plethora of “news” items that will be unleashed into cyberspace and on social media platforms in the coming months and years. Most likely, they’ll have the effect of making more than a few people suspicious of all news and information — regardless of the source.

Which brings us back to synthetic fabrics. They’re with us and always will be; there’s no turning back from them.  But people have learned how to use them for what makes sense, and eschew the rest.  We need to figure out how to do the same with synthetic media.

Suddenly, smartphones are looking like a mature market.

The smartphone diffusion curve. (Source: Business Insider)

In the consumer technology world, the pace of product innovation and maturation seems to be getting shorter and shorter.

When the television was introduced, it took decades for it to penetrate more than 90% of U.S. households. Later, when color TVs came on the market, it was years before the majority of households made the switch from black-and-white to color screens.

The dynamics of the mobile phone market illustrate how much the pace of adoption has changed.

Only a few years ago, well-fewer than half of all mobile phones in the market were smartphones. But smartphones rapidly eclipsed those older “feature phones” – so that now only a very small percentage of cellphones in use today are of the feature phone variety.

Now, in just as little time we’re seeing smartphones go from boom to … well, not quite bust.  In fewer than four years, the growth in smartphone sales has slowed from ~30% per year (in 2014) to just 4%.

That’s the definition of a “mature” market.  But it also demonstrates just how successful the smartphone has been in penetrating all corners of the market.

Consider this:  Market forecasting firm Ovum figures that by 2021, the smartphone will have claimed its position as the most popular consumer device of all time, when more than 5 billion of them are expected to be in use.

It’s part of a larger picture of connected smart devices in general, for which the total number in use is expected to double between now and 2021 – from an estimated 8 billion devices in 2016 to around 15 billion by then.

According to an evaluation conducted by research firm GfK, today only around 10% of consumers own either an Amazon Echo or Google Home device, but digital voice assistants are on the rise big-time. These interactive audio speakers offer a more “natural” way than smartphones or tablets to control smart home devices, with thousands of “skills” already perfected that allow them to interact with a large variety of apps.

There’s no question that home devices are the “next big thing,” but with their ubiquity, smartphones will continue to be the hub of the smart home for the foreseeable future.  Let’s check back in another three or four years and see how the dynamics look then.

Cutting the Telephone Cord

ccA new milestone has been reached in the United States:  For the first time, more than half of all American adults live in households with cellphones but no landline telephones.

That’s the key takeaway finding from a recent survey of ~24,000 Americans age 18 and above conducted by market research firm GfK MRI.

This finding  mean that in just six years, the percentage of adults living in cellphone-only households has doubled. In GfK’s 2010 research, the percentage was just 26%.

Not surprisingly, there are significant differences in the findings based on age demographics:

  • Millennials (born 1977 to 1994): ~71% live in cellphone-only households
  • Generation X (born 1965 to 1976): ~55%
  • Boomers (born 1946 to 1964): ~40%
  • Seniors (born before 1946): ~23%

Interestingly, despite their relatively low adoption rate, the percentage of Seniors living in cellphone-only households actually quadrupled over the past six years.

As for an ethnic breakdown, Hispanic Americans are significantly more likely to live free of landline phones compared to the other three major groups:

  • Hispanic Americans: ~67% live in cellphone-only households
  • Asian Americans: ~54%
  • Whites: ~51%
  • African Americans: ~50%

Perhaps surprisingly, the Northeast region of the United States has the lower incidence of cellphone-only households (~39%), compared rates all over 50% in the other three regions. As it turns out, the Northeast has relatively higher levels bundled communication services (TV, Internet, landline and cellphone services), but one suspects that the figures will come into alignment in the next few years and many of those bundled programs bite the dust.

At this rate of change, could we be seeing effectively the end of landline phone service within the next two decades? It seems likely so.

How about you?  Have your cut the phone cord yet?  And did you regret it for even one minute?

Checking messages: First, last and always.

cemIf you think your personal and professional life has become consumed with checking messages ad nauseum, you’re not alone.

Recently, Adestra and Flagship Research surveyed Internet-using Americans for eMarketer to find out just how pervasive the practice of checking messages has become.

The results surprise no one — even if they’re a bit depressing to contemplate.

Asked to cite when their first message check of the day is typically done, here’s what the eMarketer survey found:

  • I check messages first thing, before anything else: ~39% reported
  • After coffee/tea but before breakfast: ~22%
  • After breakfast but before departing for work: ~20%
  • On the way to work: ~4%
  • Once at work: ~8%
  • Later in the day: ~3%
  • Other responses: ~4%

[I was a little surprised to find myself in a distinct minority (checking messages upon arriving at work) … but I suppose when one gets to the office at 07:00 hrs. each workday, as I do, that may be when most others are en route to the office or still at home.]

Not surprisingly, the “check messages before anything else” contingent is more heavily represented by younger people, with over 45% of the survey’s respondents under the age of 35 reporting that they check messages first thing in the day.

The type of messages in question run the gamut from e-mail to text, social media and voicemail. But it’s overwhelmingly e-mail and text messaging apps that smartphone users check first thing in the day:

  • Text messaging: ~67% check this mobile app first
  • E-mail: ~63%
  • Facebook: ~48%
  • Weather app: ~44%
  • Calendar app: ~30%
  • News app: ~21%
  • Games: ~19%
  • Instagram: ~16%
  • Pandora: ~16%
  • Other social media: ~9%
  • Other apps: ~7%

More details on the eMarketer survey can be found here.

What are your message checking practices — and how are they different or similar to these survey results?

This email signature block says it all …

signature areaOver the years, I’ve noticed how signature blocks at the bottom of business e-mails have been getting longer and more elaborate.

Remember the days of simply showing an office address, phone, FAX and e-mail? That disappeared a long time ago.

Why it’s happened is all a function of the many ways people can and do choose to communicate today.

For folks in the marketing and sales field, sometimes the contact options go overboard. Not long ago, I received an e-mail pertaining to a business service pitch. Here’s what the sender had included in the signature area at the bottom of his e-mail message:

  • If you’re a phone person, here’s my mobile number:
  • If you’re a text person, send a message to my cell:
  • If you’re an email person, here’s my address:
  • If you’re an instant message person, here’s my Google ID:
  • If you’re a Skype person, here’s my handle:
  • If you’re a Twitter person, here’s my username:
  • If you’re a Facebook person, here’s my page:
  • If you’re a face-to-face person, here’s my office location:

The only thing missing was Pinterest, and a FAX number …

Seeing this signature block was a stark reminder of the myriad ways people are connecting with their business and personal contacts.

Nothing new in that, of course — but seeing it presented in one big bundle really drove the point home.

Scott Ginsberg
Scott Ginsberg

Later, I discovered that this litany of contact options was first popularized four or five years ago by the business author and blogger Scott Ginsberg. Evidently, others have now picked up and run with the same concept.

Taken together, it’s no wonder people feel busier today than ever before, despite all of the ways in which digital technology purports to simplify communication and make it more efficient.

I wouldn’t want to go back to the old days … but at times, there’s a certain attraction to the idea of not having to be “always on” in “so many places,” no?

The “App Gap”: Mobile Apps Overtake All Others in Digital Media Consumption

Mobile apps overtaking other digital media consumptionIt was bound to happen.

The bulk of time Americans are spending on digital media … is now happening on mobile applications.

According to data released this past week by Internet and digital analytics firm comScore, the combined time that people expend using digital media breaks down as follows:

  • Mobile apps: ~52% of all time spent online
  • Mobile web surfing: ~8%
  • Desktop: ~40%

Apps are clearly in the driver’s seat – particularly in the mobile realm.  In fact, comScore estimates that apps account for 7 out of every 8 minutes spent on mobile devices.

On smartphones, the app usage is ~88% of all time spent, whereas on tablets, it’s ~82%.

This doesn’t mean that app usage is spread evenly throughout the population of people who are online.  Far from it.  Only about one-third of people download one app per month or more.  (The average smartphone user is downloading about three apps per month.)

The inevitable conclusion:  App usage is highly concentrated among a subset of the population.

Indeed, the 7% most active smartphone owners account for almost half of all the download activity during any given month.

But even if most users aren’t downloading all that many apps … they are certainly engaged with the ones they do have on their devices:  comScore reports that nearly 60% are using apps every day.

Here again, the data show that usage levels are much higher among smartphone users than they are with tablet users (where only about one quarter of the people use apps daily).

Where they’re spending their time is also interesting.  Well over 40% of all app time spent on smartphones is with a user’s single most used app.  (Facebook takes top honors — of course.)

And if you combine social networking, games and Internet radio, you’ve pretty much covered the waterfront when it comes to app usage.

When you think about it, none of this should come as much surprise.  We’re a mobile society – hourly, daily, monthly and yearly.  It only makes sense that most online time is going to be happening when people are away from their home or their desk, now that it’s so easy to be connected so easily from even the tiniest mobile devices.

And speaking of “easy” … is it really any wonder why people would flock to apps?  It’s less hassle to open up an app for news or information rather than searching individual sites via mobile.  People simply don’t have the patience for that anymore.