4: The Value of Time Zones

A common myth about the mobile platform is that it is a device that people use to kill time while commuting or waiting for something else to happen, but surveys tell a different story.

When indicating where the mobile device is used, women indicate (in order) home, leisure, work/school, and commuting. Men follow largely the same pattern, shifting work/school to the top position, followed be the rest in the same order.

A separate study by a mobile game studio found that 75% of users play games at home during the weekends for extended periods of time. And a separate study of a fashion retailer found that the majority of its sales happened after 10pm, indicating that the mobile device was used to unwind before going to sleep, much like reading a magazine or catching up on e-mail.

While there are certainly idiosyncrasies to Japanese society, it stands to reason that these usage patterns could apply to many other developed nations: about 70% of mobile use occurs in a fixed location, while the remaining 30% occurred while people are moving around.

So while the common perception is that people use their mobile devices when they are out and about, the usage patterns show a different picture.

(EN: I can largely accept that these figures reflect current behavior patterns, but I've also read that this is a circular argument. Presently, many mobile sites and applications are scaled-down versions of applications designed for the desktop and that are not usable on the go. So should be design for a fixed-location user because that is their inclination, or are users inclined not to use applications while roaming because they are not suitable for use unless the user sits still and uses both hands on the device? My sense is further research is necessary before accepting the author's conclusion.)


The authors attempted to map the types of content consumed (e-mail, weather, news) based on user location (home, work, commuting) based on the assumption that people would have an interest in a specific kind of information in a specific place or time.

Some detail is given, but ultimately, the conclusion is that there is no specific pattern of interest located to physical location. (EN: but in fairness, the content types they used seemed rather generic - I wonder if they might have discovered more location-specific usage if they looked at a broader array of categories.)


The authors define two specific "time zones" for mobile usage - nothing to do with the time of day, but with the conditions under which the user turns his attention to the device. Specifically, two zones are defined: "in-between time" as the scraps of time between other activities where the device is an escape from boredom and "golden time" as an extended period of time they devote to interacting with the mobile device.

In-Between Time

This time zone involves the use of a mobile device for a short duration, generally when a person is "between" two other activities - it may be for only a few minutes, or it may be a longer waiting period - but when the "main" activity begins or resumes, the mobile engagement is abruptly ended.

The content and services used during these scraps of time must be tailored to the short amount of time and attention they will be given: concise, easy to access, and easy to resume after an interruption.

There is the general notion that scraps of time are filled with trivial or meaningless tasks. A person will play a quick game or read a short note, largely for their own entertainment. However, not all uses of in-between time are quite so frivolous.

Most logistical applications are used during in-between time: users do not use their mobile devices to leisurely browse maps for long periods of time, but instead quickly seek to plot their present location and a quick route to the place they are going. Likewise, an application that finds a nearby location (a restaurant or ATM) is not likely to be used to plot a comprehensive map of a city, but to find a single, proximate location so the user may immediately go there.

Weather applications are likewise used in-between times: a person who is leaving home on their way to another location wants a quick glance at the weather to know if they need an umbrella or a jacket. They are less likely on mobile than on the PC to check an extended forecast for several days.

Even "entertainment" applications to kill boredom are likewise those designed for small scraps of time. A puzzle or game that requires a long period of involvement or intense concentration is not suitable to in-between time, but a puzzle or game that can be quickly solved or abandoned and resumed is applicable. Likewise, in-between time can be used to get a quick glance at scores, but not watch an entire sporting event.

Text messaging is one of the mobile phone's "killer" services as an in-between time escape: a person can write, or read, a note of a few sentences that does not require an immediate response. (EN: This is where "twitter" has an advantage over a traditional blog for a person who is on the go.)

Golden Time

"Golden time" refers to periods in which a person is willing to dedicate themselves to interacting with the mobile device: giving it their complete and focused attention for a longer period of time. Content and services for this time zone can and should have greater depth and breadth.

Most people do not associate this time zone with the mobile platform. Especially in the home, where a computer with Internet access is available, it is commonly believed a person would be better served to use that platform - but given that the home is the most common place for mobile among women and the second most common among men, this notion may need to be reconsidered.

Largely, this is because the mobile device is a portable access point - unlike toe computer, which is generally tied to the desk, the mobile device can be carried into the kitchen, the bathroom, or a bedroom with relative ease.

Especially for teens and children, peak usage period for the mobile device is between 10 pm and 2 am, in their bedroom. In this location, they may shop, play games, watch television, and send texts and e-mails to their friends in a private setting.

Fashion is another area where the mobile platform provides tips and advice: the teen who is interested in being in the latest style will use their device as they browse their wardrobe or apply make-up to make sure that they are not doing something that was declared to be out of fashion (literally) yesterday.

There is also the notion of using the mobile device as a method of keeping in touch while doing other things. Friends watching a sporting event or other program on television in their separate homes can chat with one another on their mobile devices, which is not possible or convenient with their desktop computers.

(EN: No example seems to be available for a grown-up or non-leisure activity done in "golden time" - and I sense this is because tasks such as balancing a stock portfolio or planning a vacation are likely too intensive for the platform. I'd be more confident in such a conclusion if this were stated explicitly rather than implied by omission.)


The authors suggest three "basic but essential steps" for developing content and service offerings that suit the notion of time zones.

Charting Needs

The first step is to consider needs, which requires taking the customer's perspective and desire for content and service, rather that your own desire to "push" specific content to them.

Specifically, consider their need for content and services in each time zone: what might be used as a quick-reference when time is not available, and what might be wanted when the user has more time to devote.

In some instances, there will be a desire for content in both time zones. In others, it may be exclusively one or the other.

Charting Time

The second step is to create a number of "use scenarios" that fit the time zones appropriate to your offering, keeping in mind that they require two entirely different approaches (short engagement with minimal attention, long engagement with focused attention).

You may find that the content or task you wish to offer is ill-suited to a given scenario, and will need to be modified accordingly. Of particular importance is that you seek to tailor your content to the user's situation, not expect the user to change their behavior to suit your content.

Developing content to suit both time zones is especially challenging, though it can be accomplished by deciding what subset of information is desired at a glance and how more detailed information can be accessed when time permits.

Stretching Time and Blending Content

The authors concede that the division between time zones is of interest to the provider, but the consumer may not be making a conscious choice. The consumer who recognizes they have about ten minutes to devote does not consider which "zone" they are in, only the needs of the moment.

This is where "blending" and "stretching" come into play - enabling the user to control the amount of time and attention they will devote in a flexible manner, with a smooth transition between them.

One example given is of a news site that contains a screen that shows headlines of stories (ideal for in-between time reference), which links to a page containing only a few paragraphs of content (for the user willing to devote a little more time) that can then be extended to reveal the full story (for golden time reading). The user controls the depth of their engagement.


The authors take the example of mobile television, the convergence of broadcast TV with mobile devices. There is been much hype and hope, and billions of dollars have been invested with dismal results. This can be attributed to an egregious mismatch between what consumers want and what broadcasters are willing to provide.

Traditional television is primarily a "golden time" technology that requires the viewer to be willing to engage for extended periods of time. Arguably, television programming can be background noise in a social environment, there to fill in he gaps in conversation, or a person may turn on a television when they are in the home doing other things. But even in those instances momentary distraction results from an always-on format: a person will give a few seconds' attention to a television that is playing, but will not switch it on for a few seconds and then turn it back off.

Even the activity of browsing a programming guide is a golden-time activity: the user must scroll and search among the program guide to find content to watch. This requires extended attention and a considerable amount of information and assistance.

The traditional concept of broadcast programming also requires the user to give their attention at a fixed time: a program is scheduled for a specific time slot when the user must be available. Digital video recording (DVR) has enabled viewers to time-shift their consumption, a notion with which broadcasters have never been comfortable and some attempt to dissuade rather than accommodate, but even then, this requires action in advance to schedule a recording.

There is also the problem of the business model. Broadcast media is supported by interruptive advertising that requires the user to be adequately engaged in a lengthier activity, such that they are tolerant of a brief interruption. This is another area in which DVR has been used to accommodate the customer's desire to skip through commercials, much to the chagrin of broadcasters and advertisers.

An interesting behavior in the Japanese market is consumers who record television content onto a data device at night to consume the following day in short and intermittent segments. Though it's noted that these segments are rather longer than the scraps of in-between time: a user may devote five or ten minutes of focused attention, which is a short span of golden time rather than a long span of in-between time.

Ultimately, television programming is not designed for in-between time at all, and the industry has thus far presented no valid solution to the problem. Existing content cannot be easily repurposed to suit the limited needs of the in-between time consumer: it is not interruptible, and delivers no value unless the user can focus exclusively on it for at least several minutes.

The two formats that have found some level of success with mobile users are the short video format (YouTube) and the news story format (CNN), which allow the user to consume a small but self-contained video program that requires little mental engagement. This is entirely different from a 20-minute "show" chopped into forth 30-second bits that make little sense out of context.

Not only would online video need to be planned differently, it would also need to be produced differently: the panoramic or multiplexed (a news broadcast with a talking head, an information graphic, and a scroll beneath) scenes of traditional broadcast television are utterly unsuited for the mobile cannel.

(EN: Calls to mind some unsatisfactory discussions with video-media producers who were frustrated by the web's inability to deliver video. My counterpoint was that video wasn't suitable for the Web - they were trying to put video shot for television in a tiny player inside a web browser, and they would need to change their shooting and composition techniques to suit the medium, rather than expecting the medium to accommodate their existing techniques. This is much the same for magazines, which have to chop up and repurpose their content for the different channel rather than merely posting a PDF of the print version.)

One suggestion the authors make is for a three-stage viewing model: a listing of programs that can be easily sifted on a small screen, each of which links to short video clips for in-between time, and gives the user the ability to "save" a play-list of longer programs for golden time, which may still be broken down into several segments rather than a single, lengthy presentation.

Even this concept may be in need of further refinement, but it does provide a step toward providing video that is useful across various time zones.


The key concept of this chapter has been the consideration of the use of mobile in two distinctly different time zones, and the need of content providers to develop their services to be suitable. They are entirely different, and are used differently by consumers.