More important than “mobile first” is first understanding the consumer


When everyones super, no one is.” – Syndrome, “The Incredibles” (2004) (I’m sure he meant “mobile.”)

Many media players are still positioning their digital efforts counter to their legacy platforms as being “mobile first.” Not only does this ignore digital reality, but it’s often just code for, “we’ll publish online before print.”

The ubiquity of wireless connectivity across the spectrum of wearables, phones, tablets, and laptops, coupled with the growth in usage of these devices, makes “mobile” the default digital mode.

Additionally, cloud services and OS features further blur the line between mobile and wired. No longer can we presume any device beyond a desktop computer is not mobile (and even then it’s questionable with small units like the Mac Mini).

“It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together.” – Obi Wan Kenobi, “Star Wars” (1977), speaking of the force (and possibly wireless networks)

From this perspective, your “traditional” Web site is just as mobile as your smartphone app.

Sure, form factor and device type go hand-in-hand with general use patterns. For example, smartphone users are on and off their devices all day in quick, focused bursts. Tablet use is higher at night and for more leisurely use. Online shopping funnels most often start with research on the phone and purchase completion happens on a tablet or laptop/desktop, etc.

However, there is enough cross-over that these patterns should serve as guides, not a fence.

Predictive and personalised services are pushing back from the smartphone and tablet apps into the “traditional” Web. For example, my laptop’s Chrome browser notifies me about the estimated commute time home – using data gathered from my smartphone. And Apple’s new iOS and Yosemite OS’s hand-off feature links data seamlessly across all your Apple devices.

The difference isn’t hardware platform – or being mobile. The difference is in understanding the context and intent of the consumer.

Both Google and Apple realise a device is simply the portal to the real platform – software services built to provide an ambient user experience within their applications (see my December 2013 post on ambient experience). This experience can be enabled in ways small and large – but does require investment in data gathering and analysis services.

Ambient experience isn’t about mobile first, or even mobile, but about being the right thing at the right time in the right place. That’s a positioning statement I can agree with.

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