Every other day there is another article about how mobile will be the death of Facebook. How is this possible for the most successful mobile service in the world in user numbers? Whether it will lead to Facebook’s demise or not the world is going mobile and businesses better be prepared for it. In a few years from now the majority of users will access businesses online through a mobile device according to forecasts by Google, Facebook, Gartner.
Some businesses like Google, Facebook, eBay, Twitter and Amazon saw it coming and were early in the game at proclaiming this and at least in terms of customer numbers they are in a big lead today. During 2011 we’ve seen see more and more of our customers (Vodafone, Procter & Gamble, Track180, Twoforone, Nokadi, etc) and many others (ESPN, American Express) placing mobile first and start-ups and new products launching their mobile presence first and then in a second step web.
Forbes has a great interview with Luke Wroblewski, the author of Mobile First which goes through the advantages of the approach with successful examples. We would like to highlight some of the advantages that we’ve seen from our experience.
It’s easier to increase functionality and scale your mobile site to make use of a bigger screen than degrading the user experience from a website to mobile. Customers expect the same functionality across all channels but the use cases and methods of interaction are different. Start with the challenge of getting it right on a smartphone and then increase the richness and user experience of the service across bigger screens. The advantage of this is that you won’t compromise the user experience for mobile but rather deliver the best experience for each device.
Requires good solution design discipline
Another advantage is that you will be forced to design a scalable solution from the beginning that will allow multiple channels, screen sizes, interactions (keyboard, touch screen and mouse), multiple development teams and to potentially open up APIs to 3rd parties in the future.
Somewhat simplified a layered architecture which allows you to deploy and optimise for any channel consists of:
- Web Services / APIs for all back-end functionality (Middleware if there are multiple back-ends)
- Content management where all content can be managed independently of channel
- Core code base for each OS/Technology (App and Browser) with back-end integration and all functionality
- User interface layer to enable or different UI’s for smartphones, tablets, TV and PC
Budgets are inevitably higher
This can be considered a pro or con but the budget for mobile will have to be much higher from the beginning. Trying to convince your management/board to invest e.g. 100-200.000 USD on mobile after you’ve already made a significant investment in building a website can be very difficult. If mobile comes first on the other hand then it becomes clear that the investment required to plan, design and build a great mobile experience is significant but worth it since this will become the future platform for all other channels as well.
To optimize your mobile presence to use as little data and memory as possible will benefit your web site as well. Although fast broadband is usually considered abundant, the average broadband speed in the US actually went down in 2011 and there are many circumstances when the connection is not as reliable incl. e.g. travel. In addition to this most websites seem to believe that the browsers have unlimited memory capacity and therefore use up excessive memory. Optimizing your online presence for mobile will speed up delivery and improve reliability across all devices.
What if I already have a website?
The answer is simply, build your mobile presence from the bottom up planning for all devices and don’t compromise by trying to leverage existing website technology unless you already have a layered infrastructure fulfilling the needs of mobile. Next time you want to upgrade/refresh your website build this on top of the mobile platform and you will find that you’ve achieved a much more scalable and future proof solution. For many of our customers the infrastructure planned and built for mobile have become a critical parts of the web infrastructure within a few years thanks to the advantages highlighted above.
So will Facebook survive in a mobile world?
Most probably yes but whether they do or not Mobile First is definitely here to stay. Organizations that don’t acknowledge this will loose out in the future.