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Is the mobile Web really happening this time?

If you’ve been working on the Web for more than a couple of years, you know that predicting that the mobile Web will take off this year is always popular, and always wrong. Thus far, the mobile Web is a small niche for most businesses, but will it remain that way? I started wondering about that as I see the spate of TV commercials leading up to the Droid phone announcement by Verizon Wireless. Yesterday, Motorola and Verizon finally revealed the phone, for which of the details have been leaked for weeks, and it makes me wonder of something finally is changing in the mobile Web.

verizon droid?

Image by pollyalida via Flickr


Before now, your best bet for mobile Web access was the iPhone. To get an iPhone, you not only needed to shell out the cash for a smart phone (which more and more is gaining share over the dumb varieties), but you probably had to switch carriers, to AT&T, which naturally limited the size of the U.S. market for Web browsing. Similar exclusive deals surround the iPhone in other countries.
Now, you non-iPhone users have probably surfed the Web, too, but studies show that iPhone users do it far more. One reason is the browser built into the iPhone is based on WebKit, an open source “rendering” engine that does a far better job of showing Web sites than older mobile browsers.
See, before WebKit, anyone with a Web site needed to fool around with different formatting for the small screen than for computer screens. And before 3G networks, bandwidth was so constrained that images rarely rendered fast enough to be worth the time waiting. There were fat “best practices” documents for mobile Web sites. So, lots of programming time went into futzing around with Web sites to make them mobile-friendly, and more time was sunk into .mobi Web sites and mobile sub-domains. In short, if you wanted your Web site to look good on a mobile phone, you needed to know what you were doing and to pay through the nose on an ongoing basis to make it happen.
As you might expect, that attracted relatively few businesses, and it meant that mobile Web browsing was a hit-or-miss affair, with a few sites providing very nice experiences, while most putting you into a second-class citizen status, causing you to remember to come back and look at that site the next time you are at your computer.
Better screens, higher bandwidth, and WebKit has changed that for iPhone users. Nokia, Palm, and (most important of all) Android phones are all beginning to use WebKit, and other browser rendering engines are beginning to pick up the gauntlet thrown down by WebKit. In the next couple of years, it’s very likely that your mobile phone will do a good job rendering almost any Web site, whether designed for mobile or not.
And, Android phones are poised to be a force in this market–expect a dozen phones in the next few months, spread across virtually all carriers. Like iPhones, Android 2.0 phones are starting to show the ease-of-use needed to spur behavior change for users who want to surf the mobile Web. I can upgrade my phone in January, and I am eying these new Android phones for a place in my pocket.
And that changes things for your business. If you never thought that you should consider mobile users in your Web plans, because not many will use your site and because it is too expensive to retrofit your development, it’s time to re-examine that stance.
Think about what customers might want to do while on the run, whether it is checking order status, opening a service ticket, ordering supplies, or watching a video about your new product. Then check out your site with one of these mobile phones. Can you figure out how to do these tasks?
I know that my Web site fails that test right now, but I am in the process of redesigning, and mobile is one of the things I plan to attack, because someone might want to check me out during a speaking appearance, or just catch up on their blog reading while mobile. I want my site to allow that.
So, even if you’ve heard that the mobile Web is taking off every year for the last five years, it’s time to listen now.

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Mike Moran

Mike Moran is an expert in digital marketing, search technology, social media, text analytics, web personalization, and web metrics, who, as a Certified Speaking Professional, regularly makes speaking appearances. Mike’s previous appearances include keynote speaking appearances worldwide. Mike serves as a senior strategist for Converseon, an AI powered consumer intelligence technology and consulting firm. He is also a senior strategist for SoloSegment, a marketing automation software solutions and services firm. Mike also serves as a member of the Board of Directors of SEMPO. Mike spent 30 years at IBM, rising to Distinguished Engineer, an executive-level technical position. Mike held various roles in his IBM career, including eight years at IBM’s customer-facing website, ibm.com, most recently as the Manager of ibm.com Web Experience, where he led 65 information architects, web designers, webmasters, programmers, and technical architects around the world. Mike's newest book is Outside-In Marketing with world-renowned author James Mathewson. He is co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (with fellow search marketing expert Bill Hunt), now in its Third Edition. Mike is also the author of the acclaimed internet marketing book, Do It Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules, named one of best business books of 2007 by the Miami Herald. Mike founded and writes for Biznology® and writes regularly for other blogs. In addition to Mike’s broad technical background, he holds an Advanced Certificate in Market Management Practice from the Royal UK Charter Institute of Marketing and is a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He also teaches at Rutgers Business School. He is a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research. Mike worked at ibm.com from 1998 through 2006, pioneering IBM’s successful search marketing program. IBM’s website of over two million pages was a classic “big company” website that has traditionally been difficult to optimize for search marketing. Mike, working with Bill Hunt, developed a strategy for search engine marketing that works for any business, large or small. Moran and Hunt spearheaded IBM’s content improvement that has resulted in dramatic gains in traffic from Google and other internet portals.

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