As you read this, I have no idea where you are.
You could be on the train, reading this on your smartphone. You could be sitting on your couch, reading this on your iPad or Kindle Fire. Or you could be sitting at your desk at work reading this on your computer, but the numbers show this is becoming less likely every day.
In the end, it shouldn’t matter. People today are confronted with a staggering amount of digital content, from online news sources to blogs to streaming video and audio, and they’re increasingly ditching the traditional computer to consume it.
The Hard Numbers
Here are some stunning facts on mobile adoption compiled by Luke Wroblewski, author of Mobile First (A Book Apart, 2011):
- Smartphones were predicted to out-ship laptop, desktop and notebook computers by 2012. They did so in 2010.
- Traffic to mobile websites tripled between 2009 and 2010. In 2010, it grew by 600%.
- By 2015, more than 50% of Americans who access the Internet will do so on mobile devices only. This is already true in Asia and Africa.
Every Brand Needs a Mobile Strategy
This infographic demonstrates nicely the uncertainty of how your customers will access your website. It doesn’t matter who you think your customers are, or what platforms you think they might be using, in the end you have no control over how they come to your site. If they have a lousy mobile experience when they click through a Twitter link on their iPhone, they’re not coming back when they sit down at their computer later.
So what strategies are out there, and which makes sense for your brand?
A Separate Mobile vs. Desktop Site
Since the days of WAP-enabled Palm Pilots, this has been the default option for crafting a mobile experience. A separately coded site, living at a different URL (often something like m.website.com), which may or may not be drawing on the same content as the more traditional “desktop” site.
- Mobile users get an experience specifically crafted for them. These sites are lower “weight” than their desktop counterparts, so files load quickly even on slow mobile networks.
- The experience is often tailored to the tasks mobile users are likely to be interested in, such as finding the nearest location of a retail store in just a few taps.
- Mobile websites are often stripped down versions of their desktop selves, so a user searching for something in particular might not find it, even if he knew it existed on the desktop site.
- Sites can look so different from their desktop counterparts in terms of design and branding, that the connection between the two is completely lost.
- Problems with implementation, such as “server attention span,” wonderfully illustrated in this XKCD comic.
Responsive Web Design
If you’ve been attuned to the world of web development in any way over the past year and a half, you’ve likely come across this methodology, popularized by Ethan Marcotte, that allows a website to be coded in such a way that it automatically conforms to any screen size, from the smallest phone to the largest high-def display. Such accommodations are made on the fly, so that if you took your browser window and made it narrower or wider, the design of the page would change while you watched. It’s a terrific concept, and one that we’ve used for building websites at RP3, but it too has its pros and cons.
- Only one website to maintain.
- Keeping a consistent brand is much easier.
- Works for all devices on the market today, as well as those that have yet to come.
- Much more complex than their fixed-width counterparts, which increases development costs (although these costs are still lower than building out separate “desktop” and “mobile” sites).
- Developers are still grappling with trade-offs such as Image Size vs. Load Time
The third major option in the world of mobile web is to build an OS-native version of your web application.
- Allows you to craft experiences with a much higher degree of interaction.
- Requires you to code in multiple languages for various platforms, and deal with the quirks of each. Facebook’s failed experiment with HTML5 in its iOS native app points to the pitfalls in trying to tie together a cross-platform mobile strategy and the ongoing need for a native-code approach when building mobile apps.
The “Mobile Web” is no longer a novelty, nor some ideal on a distant horizon. It’s here, now, and brands need to have a strategy for it. It’s no longer enough to say “my customers don’t come to my site on their phones” because increasingly that’s no longer true. To build a truly Magnetic Brand, you must provide a great experience at every touch point, and mobile is no exception. Treat your audience to a great mobile experience, and they’ll become loyal customers wherever they go.