Mobile Is Not A Sideshow - InformationWeek

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07:04 PM
Thomas Claburn
Thomas Claburn
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Mobile Is Not A Sideshow

Some businesses at GigaOm Mobilize conference report that mobile is 25% of their Web traffic, yet many enterprises still don't have mobile-optimized websites.

Throughout the day on Thursday at GigaOm Mobilize, a conference devoted to mobile technology that's being held in San Francisco, moderators asked tech industry panelists whether mobile projects should be prioritized over desktop projects.

Invariably, the answer was some variant of "mobile first." Given the focus of the conference, that's hardly a surprise. But really, the question shouldn't even need to be asked, for two reasons: First, the shift toward mobile devices is so obvious and has been going on for so long now that the issue should be settled. If your company doesn't have mobile initiatives underway, someone is asleep at the wheel. And second, the persistence of the mobile-desktop dichotomy obscures the technological common ground.

Mobile computing is not separate from desktop computing; mobile is an adjective that modifies hardware but doesn't change its fundamental nature. Accordingly, if you're not thinking about mobile, you're not thinking about modern IT.

[ For more on mobile, read GAO Urges Action On Mobile Device Security. ]

Mobile is not a sideshow. It's part of the main event. It should be an immediate concern, not some future project. And yet many businesses still don't have mobile-optimized websites. For example, according to analytics company Restaurant Science, only one in eight restaurant chains and one in 20 independent restaurants have a mobile-optimized website.

Mobile should not be ignored. Consider what some of the conference panelists had to say on the subject during their respective presentations: "The biggest change [in the past five years] is in the type of people who have smartphones, they're ubiquitous, and it's the amount of time people spend on them," said Dennis Crowley, co-founder and CEO of Foursquare. Shiva Rajaraman, director of product management at YouTube, said, "Mobile is very important for us because it's 25% of our traffic."

And mobile is growing. Cisco in February predicted that global mobile data traffic will increase 18x between 2011 and 2016.

Why did mobile become so important so quickly? Rich Miner, partner at Google Ventures, suggested that no one quite understood just how frustrated people were with mobile devices before iOS and Android. It's probably also worth saying that many people quickly grasped the possibilities when desktop immobility ceased to be an assumption.

Would-be entrepreneurs should consider current sources of frustration as possible business opportunities. For example, Rajaraman observed, "[N]avigating on the TV is one of the most nightmarish experiences you can have."

They should also think about catering to businesses. "I see very few startups doing [mobile] enterprise work," said Miner. "Mobile is really where the excitement and the heat is," Nick Earl, SVP of global mobile and social studios at Electronics Arts.

As for social? Well, not so much. "Social is a little bit tricky right now, there are some pretty significant headwinds," said Earl, speaking specifically about social games.

How then to best develop meaningful mobile services? Think cloud and think fast. "If someone asks 'how do we start?', I usually just recommend Amazon [Web Services]," said Mike Krieger, co-founder of Instagram. Krieger puts a premium on speed, calling it a "core element of mobile."

But speed isn't everything. Mobile apps also have to be good. In light of the complaints about Apple's redesigned Maps app, Miner noted, "I literally got lost using the Apple Maps app last night."

GigaOm founder Om Malik mused that maybe Apple shouldn't do services. Miner replied, "There's build and there's buy. [Apple] decided to build and I'm not sure that was the right decision."

I'm not sure what's more amusing: Miner's swipe at Apple or the fact that one of the creators of Android was relying on an iPhone to get around.

Download the debut issue of InformationWeek's Must Reads, a compendium of our best recent coverage on enterprise mobility in our new easy-to-read and -navigate Web format. Included in this issue of Must Reads: 6 keys to a flexible mobile device management strategy; why you need an enterprise app store; and Google points to the future of mobile. (Free registration required.)

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User Rank: Apprentice
9/24/2012 | 5:07:27 PM
re: Mobile Is Not A Sideshow
As to your last paragraph, Win8 is your answer.
User Rank: Ninja
9/22/2012 | 12:19:48 PM
re: Mobile Is Not A Sideshow
Yes, mobile is important, but when even a high traffic web site like YouTube 'only' has 25% of web traffic from mobile then sidelining the remaining 75% is just really bad advice. The incredible problem with mobile is that mobile is very fractured and support for mobile web does not follow a common standard and therefore implementation and UX are vastly different on each mobile platform. Add to that the fact that despite dual and quad core processors mobile devices are still weaklings when it comes to local processing in the browser. And with no common runtime on mobile the only choice is to make native apps for iOS, Android, Windows Phone 7/8 while ignoring the rest of mobile platforms that are still around, but too small to matter. The article mentions independent restaurants. The restaurant business is one of the toughest businesses around with incredibly high failure rates. Any restaurant owner will rather pay the immediate bills than spend thousands on hiring a company to write custom apps - as opposed to a plain simple web site that mildly skilled computer users can click together over a weekend, which, by the way, will also work to some degree on mobile devices. Maybe using restaurants as example was a poor journalistic choice.
Additionally, mobile is expensive. Data plans are typically metered and / or cost a lot per month. If anything, the prices will go up and the data amount allowed will go down. Banking entirely on mobile just to get priced out of the market through the greed of service providers isn't a wise business decision.
Further, the mobile industry moves at incredible pace. There is a new generation of hardware about every eight months and content needs to be fresh and make use of hardware capabilities in order to get any attention. Most businesses that do not have IT as a core competency (such as restaurants) would have to buy external services on a continuous basis to stay relevant with the content provided. It is just ignorant to expect that to happen.
Lastly, it is also very dependent on the target audience. For example, I don't care if a business has a mobile optimized service offering. I have no smartphone and will likely never buy one. I have several desktops and laptops so that if I need info or content I can get it. I don't spend hours commuting in subways or trains and also do not have the need to be available 24x7. I also do not twitter or constantly expose my personal life on Facebook. While the hipster crowd waiting in line for days for the next smartphone is different, they are not the only ones out there.

If the mobile industry wants to court to everyone then make mobile drastically cheaper to obtain, operate, and create content for. As far as content goes, we need one runtime that works natively on all devices and delivers the same UX, ideally it delivers the same UX on desktop systems and integrates seamlessly. And of course, such a runtime needs to be actively supported and not jeopardized by service providers and vendors. Until this is in place, mobile will remain popular, but still have all the disadvantages of a niche product.
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