Mobile Dominates Local, but Are Wearables the Future?

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mobile-phone-map-searchFor local, mobile isn’t just an opportunity — it’s everything.

Confirming a widely held belief, a new study from Yext has found that the overwhelming majority of consumers — particularly those in younger generations — prefer accessing local information through a smartphone, even while a desktop computer is within reach. As the mobile market expands beyond smartphones into an array of internet-connected devices, the next question for local technology firms is whether a new breed of mobile, and wearable, devices, might generate a similar opportunity.

The study, which surveyed 1,020 consumers in August, found that two-thirds of consumers under 30 turned to either a tablet or smartphone first when searching for local information. The figure decreases slightly for the 30-43 segment, and then drops off quickly afterwards, with baby boomers still preferring desktop PCs or laptops to look up directions or find restaurants nearby.

“There’s an organic relationship between discovering local information and the smartphone, which a lot of folks have suspected for a while” says Greg Sterling, senior analyst at Opus Research and co-author of the survey. “Yes, some of that is about being out in the world and having to make decision while on the go, but there’s something that goes well beyond that logical connection.”

The connection between local tech and mobile devices is nothing new to the industry. Over the past few years, a number of local publishers have reported mobile traffic that’s markedly higher than average. Yelp, for instance, reported during its earnings call in July that 59% of its searches came from mobile. Meanwhile, as of August, 17.1% of the web’s overall traffic comes from mobile devices, according to a report by Statista.

For most local firms, the mobile opportunity is, by now, accepted as an indelible maxim. However, the growth of an emerging segment of wearable devices — ranging from Google Glass and Samsung’s Galaxy Smartwatch to fitness bands from Jawbone, Fitbit and others — could set the stage for a potentially lucrative new dynamic in the local industry. Location and proximity will likely play a critical role in creating the sort of personalized experience necessitated by the intimacy of these devices.

The demand for these devices is growing, but still remains largely latent, according to the study. While a third of respondents under 30 said that they were interested in owning a Google-glass, 29% had never heard of the product, and another 22% said they would need to look “more normal” before they made a purchase. Similarly, 40% of respondents under 53 said they were interested in a smartwatch, while a little over a third said they owned a smartphone, and did not need the device.

“There’s definitely an inherent location dimension [to wearables], but it’s just too early to make any definitive statements about the [applicability to the local market],” said Sterling. “Certainly, the market will still be too small for developers to pay attention; I think a year is too short a time frame. Two year or three years? Then we might start to see something interesting happening with wearable technology, and an opportunity for local space.”

Meanwhile, the local landscape on mobile is still evolving. In an interesting note, while consumers under 43 have higher rates of mobile usage overall, it’s the baby boomers, not the millennials, who check-in most frequently. According to the study, a little over a third of consumers age 44 and older said they shared location with friends, compared to 28% of Generation X and 26% of Generation Y users.

Steven Jacobs is Street Fight’s deputy editor.