The mobile web is “changing our lives,” argues Razorfish information architect and interaction designer John Pettengill. Location-aware, personalized handhelds loaded with apps that serve up on-demand information, customized entertainment and social networks, are ushering in a generation of connected, always-on individuals. “Mobile is the most personal of all personal computers,” says Google’s VP engineering Vic Gundotra.
Nielsen Media 4Q08 data shows continued upwards trends in handheld computing, in part due to the increased availability of quality mobile content and apps. As well, the iPhone is making mobile data retrieval a no-brainer reality for the mainstream public. Though representing only 10% of the market, Apple is being credited with teaching us how to use a cellphone as a mobile computing (and gaming) device. Apple accounts for more than 50% of smartphone mobile web traffic, and those users are accessing data and installing apps in staggering numbers. As a result, this week Apple announced the “Billion App Countdown” contest.
When away from the desktop, users’ information needs change. As more people use their smartphones to access the web, there is a demand for mobile-ready online content that fits nicely and functions properly on devices that are fundamentally different from desktops–tiny screens, lacking flash animation capabilities, and missing cut/paste functions, for example.
In a provocative slide deck, Pettengill recently called for an end to “watered down” mobile site builds, those developed as an afterthought. “The mobile web cannot be sloppy,” he argues, because of the limitations of these handheld gadgets and the fact that mobile web users are (by default) already multitasking.
We know that mobile Internet users have unique data needs and desires–and that handhelds are not just a “second screen” mirroring the desktop. Msites need to support fast and easy “information snacking” on-the-go, with intuitive navigation and quick loading content designed for access via smartphones and netbooks. Moreover, a recent comScore study showed that heavy mobile internet users “show a high engagement with web sites that provide regional and local content, entertainment and sports information”–a potent mix Piper Jaffray calls commutainment.
Still, small businesses have not embraced mobile advertising “because of technical and business hurdles that make ad buys difficult even for large advertisers,” according to The Kelsey Group. Luckily, the major players are making it easier for brands/companies to attract engaged mUsers even if they can’t afford a purpose-designed site. All of the top websites are already mobile-friendly. As Collin Douma (@CollinDouma) argues in his blog, if brands are currently using Facebook, YouTube, and/or Twitter, they are already “engaged in amazing mobile connections” because of the sheer magnitude of users accessing those sites on 3G networks and smart phones like Blackberries, iPhones and Windows mobile devices. Even those companies without a custom mobile campaign can participate effectively in the mobile web if they tag along with their clients and engage in social media marketing.
However, this raises the point that “most companies are scared to use social media, because they fear losing control of their brand,” observes Seth Goldstein. This in spite of the fact that “consumers become more invested in brands that reward their participation.”