Studies indicate the consumer adoption rate of mobile devices (smartphones) is significantly faster compared to the adoption rates of laptop computers and wired Internet access. Basic mobile devices are everywhere. Market saturation of smartphone devices and mobile internet access is not far behind.
Nearly 5 billion people on our planet are now mobile customers. Mobile devices are becoming full-fledged platforms running a wide range of applications. Both realities mean mobile devices will augment or supplant personal computers as the new e-business channel for employees and customers.
What does this proliferation of mobile devices mean for the content management professional, our information management and content publishing strategies and the software that we use to provide services to our organizations ?
Mobile Access to Content
Just when we thought we had all wrapped our head around developing interfaces for small phone sized devices (remember WAP?), not only do the phone screens keep getting bigger, but now we have this class of ‘pads’, slates or tablets, with screen’s ranging from 7 to 10 inch diagonals. And it's not just about the screen size, there's also resolution. The screen resolution of the pads / slates / tablets are all different, with different orientations and generally different user interaction paradigms.
Web Page Versus App
This brings us to something which appears to be a common topic for debate recently with respect to this class of devices, and their smaller smart phone cousins; web standards versus custom Applications.
Instead of attempting to configure a separate mobile web interface for your systems, you could create in house specific applications. Maybe your major application vendors have jumped on the iPad band wagon and already created a generic App so you don't need to worry about development (just deployment).
The argument against Apps is the fragmentation of the internet, i.e. we should stick with the web as a delivery channel and the well established web standards. So you code your new interface in HTML 5 and use other standards to ensure your systems can be accessed from iOS, Android, Blackberry or Windows smart phone devices.
So apps versus web interface is an interesting debate, but one which might be highly contextual, depending on the approach the vendors take to licensing their Software Development Kits (SDK's). Even so, the lowest common denominator is going to be the fact that all these devices have web browsers.
Another element of managing content for these devices is how they interact with software services, and whether your use of these devices may tie you into 'cloud computing'. For example because the iPad is essentially a 'consumer device' and does not have a user accessible file system, many apps rely on integration with cloud systems such as Box.net for moving or synchronizing content. That might be OK for some organizations, but maybe not for others.
Considerations for Content Management Professionals
As always it will be highly contextual, depending on whether your organization is supporting engineers in the field with ruggedized handheld's running specialized vertical apps, or if your consultants want access to the intranet via their new BB Playbooks — we will still need to consider the following:
- Do you have a multiple channel publishing strategy (write once, publish many) for internal consumption of information? If not does the introduction of these devices mean you need one?
- Do you already have a 'mobile' strategy for allowing employee's to access internal information and services via smart phones? Can it be expanded to cover the new devices?
- Do you have the internal relationships in place to be involved in any discussions and decisions on the Application versus Web interface debate?
- Does 'mobile access' need to have greater priority the next time you RFI / RFP for a CMS?
- Does a cost benefit analysis of providing for example intranet access via mobile devices show net benefits for your organization?
- Do you have enough information to be able to calculate a hard / soft Return On Investment for mobile device access to your internal information?
Does your company have policies regarding the use of mobile devices, and are you publishing content through multiple channels. If not, should you?
Connected consumers — those who do online shopping, networking and sharing — are seeking mobile devices with similar expectations for productivity. They want accessibility, usability and simplicity, with user experiences tailored to their devices. They also want the mobile experience to be customized to their immediate needs and use patterns, often with a blend of “offline” and “online” experiences.
At minimum, a brand’s mobile strategy and budgets should be aligned to create mobile-friendly experiences across key digital touch points and critical business services.
Consumers expect a seamless, consistent interaction with their favorite brands, whether through a mobile web site or an in-store salesperson. If mobile is the bridge between channels, some consumers are decisively moving back and forth across it, while some consumers want to stay put. They are neither “online” nor “offline” – they are simply “mobile.” Consumers love this gray area, and your business better start loving it, too.
Mobile Web design and development strategies must be aligned to the fact that mobile web visitors are inherently different. Mobile Web content should be specific to mobile users looking to accomplish smaller tasks more quickly. The design, UI and functionality should be tailored specifically to varying device and browser types. This makes device-recognition capability even more critical, and emphasizes streamlined delivery of content and services.
A mobile device is not just a small desktop. Taking something that works in a desktop browser with a mouse/keyboard interface and shrinking it down to mobile doesn’t cut it. What’s different? Two things: limited screen real estate, and your finger is your only input device. These two things have deep design implications.
A branded mobile app may not be a sound investment for the foundation of a mobile strategy. Consider the initial development costs and resources needed to create awareness of the app and drive downloads. Marketers need to get over their app envy and take serious consideration of:
- Whether the app can deliver business value over and above a well-executed mobile web solution;
- What aspects of the app take advantage of the inherent capabilities of the device, such as the camera or accelerometer;
- Whether an optimized, branded presence in already popular apps like Yelp, Foursquare and Facebook can accomplish the same goals as a branded standalone app.