SmoothSpan Blog

For Executives, Entrepreneurs, and other Digerati who need to know about SaaS and Web 2.0.

Mobile is Today’s Lean Forward/Sit Back Debate

Posted by Bob Warfield on November 17, 2008

Remember Lean Forward versus Sit Back?  A friend of mine was active in two different home entertainment startups and taught me the concept.  When you’re at a PC, you’re “leaning forward”.  When you’re watching the TV, you’re “sitting back”.  So the Interactive TV world of the day (don’t hear much from them lately) wanted everyone to “sit back”. 

Nothing wrong with either one, but you have to be careful predicting one is the universal truth and not the other, because they represent completely different modes of interaction rather than competing modes.  Yes, there is overlap, but it’s not that large.

This morning I was reading Tim O’Reilly on Mobile devices and was struck by the same feeling.  He tells a fine anecdote about what mobile can do, but then concludes with the following:

I think about the web as experienced on a PC, and then about mobile as an add on. The tipping point has come; that notion has to flip: if we’re trying to get ahead of the curve, we need to think first about the phone, and then think about the PC browser experience as the add-on.

There’s that unfortunate and very Western desire that all things must compete with only one winner.  Why does this thinking constantly rear its ugly head?  Why must there be a tipping point that favors only one?  Tim doesn’t really say.  At best I can speculate it is a tipping point in terms of where we must turn for hype and buzz value, but I don’t see any tipping point from a user experience standpoint.

I love my iPhone for the web experience it can provide, but I also love the 30″ monitor and dual CPU four core PC that I’m composing this blog post on.  Would I rather write the post on the iPhone?  No, certainly not.  But that’s not really my point.  The real issue is I would never even stop to think about which one to choose.  For most activities, the choice is obvious. 

Getting back to the anecdote that prompted Tim’s remark, it involved dinner table conversation and the inability to answer a question.  No PC was available, but the fellow who had to say, “I don’t know”, had forgotten was his 4 year old daughter reminded him: he could get the answer from his phone.

Being able to answer a question at dinner is hardly a reason to think it is the time to flip.  Embrace both platforms.  It is definitely a reason to ask yourself how your users can benefit from your application while they are away from their PC’s.

At Helpstream, we face this issue in a couple of ways.  As a customer service application, someone could have one of those questions while away from the PC, and they’d want to be able to answer it.   Even more importantly, some of our customers are selling mobile device software and want their users to be able to get answers from their phones.  We’ve taken the approach of making sure both the web browser client and email can be used for these interactions.  Some phones are better at one versus another.

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2 Responses to “Mobile is Today’s Lean Forward/Sit Back Debate”

  1. [...] got the crossword that you can do. It’s got all the features from the web and even more sit-back experiences — like we have the news in video and the news in pictures that can become full screen. I can [...]

  2. [...] got the crossword that you can do. It’s got all the features from the web and even more sit-back experiences — like we have the news in video and the news in pictures that can become full screen. I can [...]

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