I have a theory: A large percentage of users are reluctant to do something too serious on their mobile device. The smaller screen and lack of control here induces a sense of unease. It's possible that past experiences with low quality apps could also be a factor.

When it comes to doing something on mobile, adoption is hard. Yet, once passing that hurdle, retention should be high.

It's possible that this applies to 'desktop first' users only. For a kid who has always had a smartphone but rarely touches a desktop, things would be the complete opposite.

Familiarity could increase a user's tendency to perform a complicated task on mobile. But as they get used to the mobile app, will users stop resorting to desktop applications? Or will each app always have particular roles?

Are there - and will there always be - particular use-cases exclusive to desktop and mobile applications? Does anyone know of any research related to such issues?

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    I can't remember reading any material about this, but just wanted to say this is exactly how I use mobile. For example, if answering to an email is important, I'll use computer even when I don't need to write a long answer. Also, on mobile it's hard to use two apps at the same time and switching between them is not optional, so that can also be one factor about serious tasks on mobile.
    – Boat
    Mar 1, 2018 at 12:23
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    Purely anecdotal but I have marveled at how my wife and children do things on their phone I will save 'til I get to my desktop. That tells me that 1) people growing up on phones don't have this reluctance and 2) people who didn't can overcome it. Mar 1, 2018 at 15:00
  • Reasons for platform/task preferences are constantly changing as the technology changes. The only restriction I see for a mobile application is the complexity of information needed to complete a task - if the user needs to analyse lots of data before they can act, then even something as simple as pushing a button can become difficult on a small screen. Regarding the email problem raised by Boat, I would guess that this has more to do with sitting down in a relatively calm space to work rather than the size of the screen - maybe Boat could experiment with that and let us all know Apr 11, 2018 at 7:58
  • There is also the practical nature of what you can easily do on a mobile device given the limited screen space and touch input. The convenience of being able to perform transactions at the point of need or receive notification on the go has definitely helped with adoption but this is still limited to the tasks that can be done quickly or easily (e.g. online banking or watching streamed video).
    – Michael Lai
    Apr 12, 2018 at 23:28

1 Answer 1


Last year, Stone Temple posted an article that analyzed some "hardcore stats" from SimilarWeb on this very topic. In 2016, Appticles posted a "listicle" that hashed together a number of studies about mobile vs desktop usage. NNGroup, of course, has plenty to say about the subject as well. Their findings largely validate your theory, which should surprise no one.

The main reason why people often resort to desktops, as opposed to mobile, for more complicated tasks, is four-fold:

  1. People use these devices in different places
  2. People use these devices at different times
  3. People use these devices for different reasons
  4. People use these devices in different ways

Because mobile users are often on-the-go - browsing through items in a store and checking to see if something is cheaper online - they are not always interested in actually purchasing something. More often than not, mobile users are not committed to any serious action. Still, impulse mobile purchases are on the rise. Some tasks and markets are quickly being equalized as the user experience for mobile devices improves.

However, tasks like filing taxes requires time, focus, and synthesizing information. Nobody would rather do this while riding a bus, or waiting for their check at a restaurant. People would rather perform a task like this while sitting at their desk, and on that desk there's likely a mouse, keyboard, and computer monitor. Mobile devices, with their notifications and constant buzzing, don't facilite focus well. Desktop computers, on the other hand, do.

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