12 Jul 2011

Understanding the Mobile Market and How It Impacts Your Business

Without any doubt, we are in the midst of the greatest technological paradigm shift since the advent of the Internet itself: The Mobile Revolution.

Although cellular communication technology was invented in 1947, with the first cell phone call being made in 1973, and the first “smartphone” invented in 1992 – it wasn’t until the release of Apple’s iPhone in 2007 that the real revolution began.

The smartphone as we know it today reportedly has more computing power then all of NASA circa 1969 (when the USA first sent men to the moon).

While we can delve into more statistics, we can also just look around and see that smartphones are everywhere. These little devices transcend nations, demographics, age groups, and socioeconomic classes. They are becoming more and more affordable, with adoption being fueled by affordable unlimited data plans.

Why Smartphones Matter
Here are a few important reasons why you should pay attention to the mobile revolution:

a. By the end of 2011, smartphones will outsell PCs.

b. By 2014 there will be more physical smartphone devices globally than PCs.

c. It is becoming the standard means by which people are accessing the Internet.

d. Your customers and/or fans are using them.

Regardless of your business – art, music, products, services – if it isn’t a necessity to be able to reach your audience via their mobile device, it will be within the next 12 months.

How to Take Your Content Mobile
The two ways to take your content and business mobile are by creating a mobile website or by making a mobile app.

Mobile Websites or “Mobile Web”
This refers to websites that know what browser or device is being used to access the site, resulting in the content being resized or reformatted to fit the screen size of the device.

The way it works is a website can be designed to know what browser is requesting its content, and based on that, redirect the browser to a subdomain where the layout is designed for the device.

Let’s illustrate:

1. Open your browser on your PC (not smartphone)

2. Go to “http://www.cnn.com

3. Open a 2nd browser window on your PC

4. Go to “http://m.cnn.com

The first site is the main CNN website. The 2nd site m.cnn.com is a subdomain of CNN and is designed to fit properly on a smartphone screen. It’s basically a 2nd website (though it has all the same content). Next:
If you have a mobile device with a browser, launch in and type in “www.cnn.com” into the location bar.

What happens?

You’ll be taken to m.cnn.com automatically.

1. Mobile websites are designed to be device independent, i.e., implement once and it (theoretically) works across all mobile device browsers

1. Requires an Internet connection to access the content.

2. Users can easily leave the website (as with any browser, i.e., doesn’t create a captive user experience).

3. You access content through a browser, i.e., mobile websites don’t get their own icon on the users’ mobile desktop.

4. There may be variations in how the mobile website looks in various browsers, i.e., cannot ensure that all users will experience the site in 100% the same way (think of how standard websites look different in IE, Safari, FireFox, etc.)

Mobile Apps
A mobile app is an actual program, or “application” that is installed onto the user’s mobile device. It’s like installing Microsoft Office onto your PC. It’s a standalone program that does something – could be a game, could be a way to access content.

The mobile app provides a self-contained user experience. The user clicks on the app icon on the device desktop, once they are in the app, they are in it and cannot “browse away” (unless of course that’s a feature of the app itself).

Mobile apps can take advantage of the hardware itself, i.e., use the device accelerometer, camera, device storage, GPS, etc.

1. Doesn’t necessarily require an internet connection to work (depends on type of app).

2. Creates a captive user experience, promotes your brand’s icon on the user’s desktop.

3. Can use the device’s hardware capabilities.

1. Is device specific – an Android app cannot be installed on an iPhone (much like a PC program cannot be installed on a Mac).

What Is Right For You?
First and foremost, if you are in any type of business – for profit, non-profit, art, products, services, etc., – it is now a necessity to have a mobile presence. This is because your customers are accessing content and information through their mobile devices.

We do not recommend an either-or type of approach. Think of it this way, if you have a physical brick-and-mortar shop, are you going to be successful if the shop is located at the end of a long road, with no other means of access? Or will you be more successful if you’re at an intersection, where there is a lot of traffic, and a lot of different ways to access your products and services?

Therefore, if it’s possible, we recommend that businesses and content creators do both. There are certainly many users that, if given the choice, would prefer to access content through mobile apps. Others still enjoy using browsers.

How to Implement a Solution
There are three methods for implementing a mobile solution.

The first is to learn how to write software and do it yourself. If you don’t have time on your hands, this is probably not a realistic solution.

The other two options are a lot like getting a house. You can either get a custom house built, which requires hiring a lot of people, supervising, spending a lot of money and time, and hopefully you’ll get what you want.

Or you can buy a pre-existing house and personalize it (paint, hang up your art, etc.).

The software equivalent is hiring a custom developer or using a pre-existing platform.

Custom Developers are just that – they will custom build you whatever you want, as long as you can pay for it. It can be a costly, time consuming, and risky process.

Platform developers are like WordPress, Tumblr, or even Facebook which is a platform. You sign up, make your “profile”, add your content, and there you go – you have a solution. Platform solutions will get your content to mobile much faster and much more affordably than having a custom solution built.

NB. This article was written by Manish Sehgal on 8th July 2011 at business2community.com