Mobile Hierarchy of Needs

The Mobile Hierarchy of Needs, Ben Thompson


In a recent project, one of the aims was to figure out where the idea of an application, service, or experience could fit – in other words, where was the best opportunity and how do you pursue it. Ben Thompson’s Mobile Hierarchy of Needs is a neat way of looking at this:

  • Hardware — At its most basic level, a mobile device needs to be functional. It needs to make and accept calls, maintain a data connection, have a functional screen and input method, etc.

    For more than two decades this was the center of all innovation in mobile, beginning with the Motorola DynaTAC 8000X in 1983, and arguably peaking with the Motorola Razr in 2004, a massive hit based on hardware alone. This era was ultimately dominated by Nokia, which offered the best technology in highly functional form factors. Some aspects of RIM’s success lay in hardware as well, particularly their keyboards.

  • Software — Software refers to the core operating system, and usually means two things:

    1. The enablement of functionality beyond phone calls and messaging, such as email, web browsing, and media playback

Regardless of your opinions on Maslow’s framework as a basis, this does give a decent leading question as to whether an app, service, or experience is worth pursuing. Greater still, it presents yet another way to take a look at current efforts and see if wheels are spinning, or if definitive value is being gained.