Those of us who’ve seen the explosion of handheld devices in the past few years have known that mobile access is going to have an enormous impact on how people use the web. Some of us have seen analytics that show an increase in mobile traffic to even the most obscure of sites. But few of us have studied mobile adoption like Benedict Evans, a consultant with venture capital firm Andreeson Horowitz. A couple of weeks ago Evans posted a fascinating presentation titled Mobile Is Eating The World. And boy, is it ever.
While many think that mobile is the future, Evans makes the case that the future is here, or it will be much sooner than we’d expected. As of 2014, three billion people in the world are online, and two billion of those have smartphones. But by 2020 – only five years away – four billion people will be online and all of them will have smartphones. Meanwhile, the PC market continues to shrink. In terms of unit-sales, the mobile industry already far surpasses the PC industry.
And it’s not like people are sacrificing power with mobile devices. Today’s smartphones have roughly the same computing power as a the best desktops of 2005. They also contain a camera, a GPS, and various other sensors. We all have supercomputers in our pockets.
So what does this mean if you’re starting out on a website, intranet, or web app project?
1. Mobile First
First and foremost, it means that mobile must be a key part of your strategy. In fact, unless you’re building an internal application that is only for desktop use, you should probably be taking a mobile first approach to design.
2. Mobile isn’t the lite version
Some have argued that mobile sites should deliver only the highlights and leave the fuller content for the desktop. But that approach, which was never sound, is completely destroyed in a post-pc world. Mobile devices are different from desktops, but they are not lesser. Serious effort needs to be applied to delivering rich content on small screens.
3. Different devices, one user
Despite the move to smartphones, they haven’t completely replaced desktops. In fact, many people have multiple devices today, including smartphones, tablets, and desktop machines. It’s increasingly important for designs to consider cross device use and the transition from one device to another. It’s a mistake to think of mobile and desktop as distinctly different things. People increasingly expect sites to provide continuity from one device to another. This is certainly something Apple has been working towards with its recent OS X and iOS updates.
4. Mobile website? Responsive? App? Hybrid?
Once you’ve decided to take mobile seriously, you need to think hard about how you’re going to address it. Whether you’re building a simple website or an online application, there are multiple options. You can create a separate mobile site, a responsive site, a native application, an HTML5 application, or a hybrid. How do you decide? As with all design decisions, you need to think about your context and decide which approach works best for you. Consider your internal capabilities, your budget, your users, and the pros and cons of each method.
5. Be prepared for change
More than two thousand years ago Heraclitus observed: “the only thing that is constant is change.” That’s never been more true than today. The web as a popular tool is barely twenty years old. Smartphones are only about seven years old. We are now on the verge of wearables as a mass phenomenon. The speed of change on the web has been dizzying and shows no sign of letting up. Whether you’re a for-profit, non-profit, or government agency, more and more of your business is being conducted online. And the online world is rapidly evolving. You must be prepared to invest on an ongoing basis as the landscape shifts or risk being left behind.
As Benedict Evans says, mobile is eating the world. Don’t let it eat you too.