Mobile first: you’ve undoubtedly heard the phrase, but what does it mean exactly? Not only that, but what can it do for your business? Is this something you need to worry about or is it just the latest trend in an already crowded marketplace?
Well, the truth is that the definition of “mobile first” has changed over the last few years. Initially, when someone talked about mobile first, it was a visual design philosophy revolving around how websites need to be re-designed for viewing on mobile devices for easy readability and navigation, especially since the first smart phones had rather small, low-resolution screens. However, as mobile devices have become more powerful and are now featuring much larger screens, the idea of mobile first as a design philosophy has evolved to something completely different today – and it’s something that you simply must focus on if you want your business to succeed. Here’s what you need to know about the mobile first design philosophy and how to apply it to your own business.
It’s Gone Beyond Desktop vs. Smartphone
Today, nearly every company has made sure that they have a website optimised for mobile users alongside their traditional desktop website designs. This is in direct response to the explosion of mobile devices over the last decade. The number of people who use smart phones and tablets to do their web browsing has increased stratospherically. However, many companies have positioned themselves to adopt mobile first as more than just a tactic for keeping mobile web browsers happy but an overall strategy for their business.
The idea, according to Ofer Brandes, who is CTO of Carmel Ventures, is to begin designing products and services for computing devices that are the most limited first. In this case, this would be a mobile phone. Next, you would continue to develop versions of these applications and software for larger and more advanced devices with larger screens and more computing power – tablets, laptops, and desktops respectively – that incorporate additional functionality, but since the core functions are present from the beginning in the most stripped-down mobile devices they were originally designed for, there’s no loss of the most crucial functionality.
It’s imperative to draft a mobile strategy right away and from the beginning, according to Brandes. This is especially important when working on instituting marketing strategies or working on the creation of new products. It may not be necessary to always focus on a mobile offering before any others, but it can certainly be beneficial that there’s at least a mobile strategy in place from the first day.
It Starts at Mobile First and Ends at Mobile Only
In some circles, there’s a growing number of experts that are predicting that mobile first is just an initial step. In fact, the endgame could easily be mobile only; this would mean that sometime in the not-so-distant future there are likely to be highly successful mobile only software and service development companies. Much of this is likely going to be as an outgrowth of the large number of people who rely nearly exclusively on smart phones and other mobile devices when it comes to accessing the Internet.
There’s a ring of truth to this concept, especially when it comes to small business owners or sole proprietors that spend their days hustling from place to place, never sitting still and always on the go as they manage employees, clients, customers, and business partners. A mobile only software developer will likely target these always-moving entrepreneurs, as well as other individuals like construction teams, field salespeople or anyone else who has to keep organized and on the move.
Whether or not mobile first turns into mobile only is rather academic at this point, as it simply hasn’t happened. At the very least, business owners can’t put off considering whether they need to institute mobile first strategies – the danger in postponing such a decision until it’s too late is much too high and exposes any company to so much heightened risk of being made obsolete that it’s madness not to do something about it.
Current Growth and Future-Proofing
Content is king nowadays, and it’s just as true in the mobile marketplace as it is in the traditional desktop computing sector. People don’t just use their mobile devices to do things like check their email or update their status on their favorite social media platform anymore; they’re doing things like accessing content-rich sites like restaurant review sites and real estate search engines.
The percentages might be small at first, but they’re growing every quarter. In fact, there’s plenty of web-surfing that goes on when it comes to mobile devices that exist outside of specific mobile aps. In fact, one research study discovered that the typical mobile phone user can visit as many as 25 websites on a daily basis. This makes it highly likely that the website for your own business is getting more than its fair share of mobile traffic.
What does this mean for businesses? Well it’s fairly obvious: if this current growth continues unabated, it’s going to be crucial to future-proof your own website by ensuring that it’s mobile-friendly. This goes further than easy readability and navigation but includes ensuring your mobile site has as much functionality as your desktop site – if not more.
Adoption of Mobile First Allows You to Focus on the Important Things
Right now, even after years of innovation and development, the mobile landscape is still limited by a large number of factors, including programming and power constraints that curtail a good amount of design development. However, despite these constraints – or perhaps more accurately, because of them – innovation continues at a quick pace, and the limitations of the mobile platform encourages creative problem solving among developers.
In some cases, these limitations become advantages. Constraints such as mobile device performance and screen size can be seen as forcing designers to focus exclusively on just the most relevant and helpful functions. The extremely limited “screen real estate” of a smart phone or even a larger device such as a mobile tablet means that web designers and app developers have no choice but to eliminate the unhelpful, the irrelevant, and the distracting in order to focus on the most important functions.
This leads companies to think long and hard on what your customers need more than anything else when it comes to a mobile app or website. This in turn helps a business zero in, sometimes with a laser focus, on ways to serve their customers in the most efficient and direct way possible. Meanwhile, it’s not just screen size limitations that force innovation and focus on prioritizing customer needs – with mobile device performance at such a premium, designers and developers have to create content delivery systems that are as efficient as possible when it comes to using mobile device resources.
Mobile First Ends up Developing New Capabilities
Thanks to all these natural constraints – screen size, computing power, network performance and so on – developers will often embrace the limitations of the platform. However, there’s also a push towards expanding functionality within the confines of these devices, and that leads to the development of new capabilities that might not have ever seen the light of day.
One of the best examples of such innovation is mobile location detection. With the majority of smart phones and even most tablets having integrated global positioning functionalities, developers have used this capability to deliver targeted information relating to the specific surroundings or location of a user. Companies have used this function in a mobile first strategy to make it easy to find the nearest ATM to a user in real-time data, for instance. This could potentially be difficult or more time consuming from a desktop computer. This is, of course, just the most rudimentary of ways the design strategy can be used to help consumers.
Think about the capabilities being developed today. Mobile-enabled household appliances can communicate with one another and with homeowners from anywhere with Wi-Fi or cellular access. Near-Field Communication in handsets like the iPhone 6 help make contactless payment technology widespread. We stand on the cusp of a very interesting time, and this means that your own business can either adapt to the new wave of technological innovation by going mobile first… or you can be left behind, resigned to the dustbin of history, in the same way the 8-track player, the Laser Disc, and the Sony Betamax VCR have done.
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