July 20th, 2010

Talk Business Interview: Mobile Websites vs. Mobile Apps

Thank you to Roby Brock at Talk Business for inviting me to talk about the importance of having websites optimized for mobile viewing.  See the interview here:

And, here is the link to the article on Talk Business.

Here are my full thoughts on the subject:

With the news that Apple sold over 1.7 million of the new iPhone 4 in just three days (making it the most successful launch in Apple’s history), it is past time to notice that more people have the ability to access websites through their mobile devices than ever before. In fact, “nearly 73 million mobile users accessed their browser in April, an increase of 31 percent from the previous year.” With people on the move and the right technology in their hands, it is safe to assume that the first experience a consumer has with a website may very well be on a mobile device rather than a desktop computer. Many websites that look great on a computer screen fall apart on the screen of a mobile device. Since a website is often a customer’s first introduction to a brand, it should make a great impression no matter how it’s viewed.

When thinking about a website on a mobile device, many businesses are trying to decide whether to invest in a custom mobile application or simply create a mobile version of the website. Research tell us that “although growth in application usage on smartphones continues to grab the spotlight in the mobile market, the audience using their mobile browser remains larger and is growing just as quickly.” And, while “smartphone penetration in the U.S. has grown from 11 percent of mobile subscribers in April 2009 to more than 20 percent in April 2010 — nearly double in just one year,” it is predicted that by 2011, over 85 percent of all new handsets will be able to access the mobile web. Mobile web activity is not just limited to smartphones anymore. But due to the popularity of smartphones and buzz about applications, there is an inclination to create a mobile application for businesses that duplicate website functions, though this is not always necessary.Creating a mobile version of a website can address the needs of mobile consumers across many different devices without as much expense and as many device limitations as custom application development.

The most important things to think about when optimizing a website for mobile consumption are:

  • Appearance
  • Content organization
  • Content functionality
  • Mobile enablement of content

Appearance

Not all devices are created equal and the way a website renders on one phone may not be how it looks elsewhere. While looks aren’t everything, when it comes to first impressions, appearances can make an immediate difference. Given the small size of the screen, consider incorporating more white space and think about load time over the cellular networks and reduce the images necessary for download. Some of the most important systems to test against include BlackBerry devices, Android devices, Palm Pre, iPhones and iPads.

Content Organization

Because visitors will be viewing the content on a smaller screen, content organization and prioritization become even more important. Think about the content that is most crucial to visitors, especially those that would need to access the site when mobile and on-the-go, then place that content in easy to locate and navigate areas of the screen. Even if this is not the content that would be considered most important for general users of the site it, placing it in a more accessible organization can make the mobile user’s experience more efficient and effective, leaving a good impression of the brand.

Content Functionality

Flash – the predominant browser plug-in for creating dynamic web content – does not yet work on most mobile devices, and it may never function on some platforms. Websites that are all-Flash or which include a Flash-based navigation or intro-animation that blocks access to the home page can be completely lost on the majority of mobile users. Most animation and video on the web is currently handled through the Flash Player. That doesn’t mean video is off-limits for mobile – quite the contrary – but it does mean that certain steps must be taken to enable video play on both desktop browsers and on mobile devices.

Mobile Enablement of Content

Mobile users are frequently consumers who are outside their home or office and making an immediate decision about whether to purchase a product, go to a restaurant, use a service, etc. An important step for mobile-enabling your website is ensuring that this most critical information is available to your users in ways they need to use it from a mobile device. This includes active links to contact information, maps to the business location and the ability to buy straight from the mobile device. Consider optimizing this (and all) content for touch-screen navigation.

The bottom line: websites are being viewed on mobile devices now and this mobile consumption will continue to increase as technology becomes more available. The web experience is vastly different on a mobile device as compared to on a computer, it only makes sense to tailor websites for the best experience by device.Developing mobile ready versions of your websites is an efficient and effective way of delivering the right content to consumers on the go, without investing the time and expense of custom application development.

One thought on “Talk Business Interview: Mobile Websites vs. Mobile Apps

  1. Great article, definitely helpful with mobile site creation. I had a lot of these concerns when I created my mobile site, one of my main desires was to be able to create my mobile site or app once and have it publish across all OS’s and devices, I used http://www.unitymobile.com. Their platforms WYSIWYG editor was extremely helpful when creating my mobile site; I was able to incorporate RSS feeds, SMS campaign management, forms, payment buttons and geolocation. All features I wanted to have and didn’t have to pay an arm and leg to have the site created. I find myself checking the analytics daily to see how the traffic to my site is increasing.

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