I'm continuously bumping into the phenomenon of people using two phones at the same time. I think this is one of those not-well understood aspects of mobile as a mass media channel, that compared with the PC based internet (as we call it, the 6th mass media channel) is very well optimized for stationary large-screen two-handed operation. To consume the PC based internet, we have a large keyboard and a mouse to help us navigate the big screen. And the screen is able to capture most of our attention and viewing space.
Mobile (the 7th mass media channel) is very different. On mobile we have a small screen and we tend to be walking or moving when we use it, and we often have other things we also do, so we often multi-task while we use mobile. But now, as half of European phone owners have two phones, and worldwide over 30% of all mobile phone subscribers have two or more subscirptions (often meaning two phones - think iPhone owner who also has a Blackberry) - we see the phenomenon of two phones used simultaneously.
This was not expected. But think about how often this happens. We listen to the music on one phone, receive an SMS on the other phone, and happily respond to the SMS while still wearing the earphones and not pausing the music. We were consuming two services on two separate phones simutaneously. I often in my workshops talk of being able to consume two telecoms services simultaneously, for example while talking to one person, our other phone rings. We see who is calling, decide not to take that call - and the call is diverted to voice mail. What happened? We were on one voice call, while the other voice call was directed to voice mail. No problem at all, for anyone to consume two telecoms services simultaneously.
In our book Communities Dominate Brands, Alan and I introduce Generation C for Community Generation. We talk about Gen C being able to multitask. Since the book, we found that a UK survey by Carphone Warehouse in 2006 that revealed that 48% of British youth admit to sending text messages while talking to someone else. This can be a real person, talking to mom and dad, while holding a phone in the pocket and sending a text message to the best friend. That is multitasking yes, but not using two phones and services. The more amazing part, is to see youth absolutely conveniently carry on one phone conversation on one (mobile) phone while simultaneously carrying on an SMS text message conversation on the other phone. Now we do have two uses of two phones and two mobile services simultaneously.
There are many more examples. Using the mobile internet on one phone and sending text messages on the other. Talking with one person on the phone while voting on American Idol on the other, etc. The point is, that the phone is optimized for one-handed operation. This is actually a very old idea, first suggested by Matti Makkonen (the retired Finnish mobile pioneer who was an executive at Telecom Finland (now TeliaSonera), Nokia and Finnet Group, who recently won the Economist innovation award for inventing SMS text messaging). Matti suggested this over 20 years ago, and I remember he mentioned it to us, when I worked at Nokia and seeked Matti's guidance for my Consulting Department, and he gave lessons to us about what makes mobile distinct from existing channels and tools.
Optimized for one-handed operation. It means we can rather easily learn to use two phones in two hands. This gives the mobile a powerful advantage over other digital mass media, whether the PC or Playstation or Digital TV - we tend to only consume one of those at a time. But we can rather easily consume two distinct mobile phone based services - on two separate phones - from two competing networks even - simultaneously. Or, we can consume mobile services while we are supposedly paying attention to the other older media such as our broadband internet (sixth mass media) or TV (fifth mass media) or a video game (ie recordings, the second mass media channel).
This changes the comparison to "apples and oranges". There are single-use mass media, like all legacy mass media (print, recordings, cinema, radio, TV and internet); and now the newest innovation, there is multi-use mass media, of which mobile is the first (and no doubt, will not be the last mass media channel).
So yeah, mobile is very different from the legacy mass media channels. And the joke that I have on the back of my current hardcover book, Mobile as 7th of the Mass Media, where I say "...On the other hand, you have your other cellphone." (and the cover illustrations too have me holding one phone in the front cover, while hiding my second phone behind my back, on the back cover) - this is increasingly becoming a reality, not only a joke. Yes, more and more young consumers are fully prepared to consume two separate mobile services on two phones, simultaneously.