Why You Need to Build Mobile Web Sites

My primary talk this Autumn has been titled, 10 Things to Make You A Great Mobile Web Developer. In this talk I review 10 things I believe developers need to know to create great mobile web experiences. Honestly I could have easily titled it 1000 Things' but typically I only have 75 minutes to cover content, so I cut it down.

The first point in my presentation is why mobile web development is important. I don't believe developers and business decision makers understand this need. Primarily because so much press is given to native applications instead of web sites. But research shows consumers are looking for good mobile web experiences over a native applications. Currently less than 5% of online retailers have a mobile web site. This potentially means that customers are not happy with 95% of the mobile web experiences and that translates to lost revenues.

As more and more non-geeks start buying smartphones the demand for compelling web experience grows. I think this holiday season you are going to see a radical shift to smartphones and more people having data plans. This means a lot more mobile web traffic. The harsh reality is the web development community is just not ready for this demand and opportunity. Just look at the growth seen in the first half of 2010.

As a real example, I was listening to the news over Thanksgiving weekend about online commerce. Part of the story indicated 5% of Black Friday online shopping was mobile. Using a rough estimate of 1 Billion dollars spent online over Thanksgiving shown in this Wall Street Journal article on holiday shopping, means possibly $50,000,000 online holiday shopping was done on mobile devices! To paraphrase Yogi Berra, 'That's real money folks'.

Demand For Mobile Web Experience

The reason more users probably don't like using your web site on their mobile device is the experience. If you look at the charts you will see reasons why users don't use a lot of desktop web sites as well and it can be solved for both platforms by using good web development architecture.

Another thing that is interesting is the Page Load expectations users have. I find it fascinating that 12% of users expect the site to load faster on their mobile device than their desktop. My personal position is these expectations can be met with proper architectural decisions.

Growing Market and Need For Paradigm Shift

The market is changing and changing rapidly. I personally think we are in a critical point in our technology timeline with the proliferation of quality mobile devices. The old fashion or 'hand crank' flip phones with tiny screens and no realistic web access is dying rapidly. Attrition is seeing those phones traded in for iPhones, Droid and finally Windows Phone 7. This means the need for a quality mobile web experience is rising rapidly.

'As handsets change, so do mobile consumption and usage patterns. Voice is becoming less relevant, and carriers and their marketing and content partners have transitioned to a focus on data.' - FinChannel.com

I found the following chart on Mashable last month and as you can see mobile data traffic started exceeding voice about 2 years ago. Traditional voice seems to be holding steady, while data shows exponential growth. This means the demand for mobile web is increasing with that pace. If you do a mental comparison with the growth in mobile data plans I think it is fair to say the average data usage per person is also increasing.

Enter Tablets

I keep talking about mobile devices. iPads are everywhere and I think it might actually be the first product Apple has released since the 80s I really like. Recently a slew of Droid based tablets were released. Hopefully by this time next year Microsoft will have a player in the market too. The adoption of the tablet paradigm is again another mobile device, which demands another mindset when architecting your web experience.

'The key thing for marketers is the combination of larger screens and the touch Web really shouldn't be underestimated,' Mr. Elkin said. 'There are much higher interaction rates for the Web and apps among smartphone owners, and on a bigger canvas we expect those deltas to go even higher.' - MobileMarketer.com

The projections for tablet sales seem reasonable, and the opportunity for a more 'immersive' experience means marketers will seek this platform out in droves. This means developers need to be aware of how to architect web sites to create great experiences on the tablet platform.


HTML5 Another Game Changer

Of the mobile device players Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 is the only one on the market without a native HTML5/CSS3 compatible browser. But the use of HTML5 is a big deal, even today. I honestly don't care about an unratified standard, its being supported and implemented today. Failure to see this and embrace it is really a decision to produce a web experience that will need to be completely rewritten very shortly just to keep up.

'We often see double consumption and usage on touchscreen devices versus non-touch interfaces,' he said. 'The mobile Web is becoming more app-like in appearance and experience, and the likelihood is that the mobile Web and apps will continue to coexist.
As the industry pushes towards the HTML 5 standard, the Web is becoming more app-like, so there's an increasing convergence between the appearance and experience.' -                 MobileMarketer.com

Unless you absolutely need a desktop client application you really need to understand how to build rich web sites using HTML5, CSS3 and AJAX. The challenge is not so much can web interfaces do X, its more which way are you going to implement X.


As you can see there is a strong demand by consumers for great mobile web experiences, with a lot of money waiting to be earned for the companies willing to invest in these experiences. The combination of modern rich user experience capability combined with this new bread of consumer toy means as a web developer you need to learn how to implement richer user experiences. The capability is there, the question is are you willing to invest the time so you are not forgotten in the modern Internet landscape?

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