It seems that, everywhere you look, you see people on cellphones, iPhones, iPads, Android phones and tablets, Blackberries and so forth.
Does it make you wonder: "Should my business be doing something in mobile"?
Good question. The short answer is: "Yes". But behind that simple answer is a host of complexities.
It will take a series of articles to explore the subject in depth. Let's start by seeing if we can answer the question: "How important is mobile for my business?".
Is It My Imagination, Or Is Mobile Popping Up Everywhere?
It's not your imagination. People have been using cellphones for a very long time, but the market has shifted dramatically.
The introduction of large-screen smartphones like the iPhone and the many Android models have fundamentally changed how people use their mobile devices. Experts who've studied the market say that on any one day 20% of Americans use the mobile web.
The iPad and similar Android-based tablets are taking mobile web access to an entirely new level, essentially providing the capabilities of a laptop PC in mobile form.
Many predict that mobile web access will overtake desktop web access within 5 years. Sooner or later, you're going to have to decide how to deal with it.
Cellphones. iPads. They're a Lot Different
You're right, they are a lot different. But from the standpoint of how to deal with them, we can identify two broad categories—tablets and smartphones.
Although there are still a lot of "feature phones" and "dumb phones", for the most part they are not going to be accessing your website (at least not in the U.S market).
Perhaps the easiest category to deal with are tablets like the iPad. These have displays that are similar to low-end PC displays. For example, the iPad screen is 1024x768, while the Motorola Xoom screen is 1280x800.
These devices can handle standard websites, although planning for such devices can improve the user experience significantly.
Clean, uncluttered website design has always been a good idea. These types of devices make that approach even more important. Because the user's "window" is limited, cluttered web pages tend to be confusing and are apt to drive visitors away.
What is a smartphone? There is no standard industry definition. For our purposes, we'll define smartphones as cellphones with reasonable displays and general-purpose web browsers.
From the standpoint of the mobile web, the main difference between smartphones and tablets is the size of the screen. Smartphones screens typically fall in the range of 480x320 to 320x240, although there are outliers at each end of the spectrum.
Smartphones require more web customization than tablets. It's not enough to simply have a clean website design. For smartphones, you need to strip your web pages down to the essentials, both to make them usable in the smaller screen format as well as to minimize download time.
What About My Website?
There are several factors to look at when deciding how mobile will affect you.
What Business Are You In?
Certain types of businesses are likely to see a high volume of mobile users:
- Local businesses. People use their mobile devices to decide which businesses to patronize, for example which restaurant to eat at.
- On-demand services. Mobile devices are the logical choice for spur-of-the-moment activities, such as arranging for taxis.
- Emergency services. In an emergency, a regular telephone is often not available. Emergency services (e.g. towing) will see a high number of mobile visitors.
- Content driven sites. Users are increasingly getting their news and other content online (rather than printed form). As people become accustomed to accessing content throughout the day, doing so while on-the-go is increasingly common.
One area in particular that is projected to be important is online eCommerce. For example, the respected consulting firm Forrester predicts that the mobile eCommerce market will be $11 billion in 2015.
Again, the type of business you're in will determine how important this market is to you. For example, mobile eCommerce will be very important for impulse purchases, such as buying a tune being played in a public place.
Businesses selling larger, higher-priced items might not see a significant increase in mobile visitors, except...
The "Downtime" Factor
Although the type-of-business analysis in the previous section provides a good general guideline, there is one wildcard.
Suppose you're somewhere where you have "downtime" but don't have access to a desktop computer. Maybe you're at the airport, or waiting for your car to be serviced, or standing in line at the DMV.
Increasingly in such situations people will pull out their smartphone and try to get something done. In these situations, the sites they go to may be quite different than in the general mobile web scenarios.
For example, if you're in the market for a new refrigerator, your smartphone would probably not normally be the tool you would use to do your research. But if you're stuck at the airport, you may decide that you might as well use it for that purpose.
As I said at the beginning, this article is only scratching the surface. We will have additional articles in the future to elaborate on many of the points summarized here.
You can help guide the direction of our articles. Let us know what areas interest you most.