Let’s give a though to what’s really valuable to you when it comes to content accessed trough your mobile phone. And your explicit and immediate needs in different every day situations.
Analysing what content people really value and want immediate access to, independently of were they are, can be divided into two main categories: broadcasted live streams such as sports, news etc. and on the other hand micro community or very personal stuff, such as your own contacts, photos, messages etc. Radio, television as well as to some extent the web, all with their merits and drawbacks, are utilised to broadcast content to a wide audience. Television is the dominating media for broadcasted live sports, while all three media are more equally important for the distribution of the latest or live news. The mobile can act as a complement for the distribution of both sports and news, but so far the additional value having access to these services through the mobile has been perceived as limited. For the majority the incentive has not been large enough to overcome the initial obstacles to get started and become a regular user of Internet services through the mobile phone.
What has shown to get people started to use Internet services through their mobile phone is rather the very personal need for unique information, information that is extremely valuable for the individual or a very small community and in a very specific situation when other media are not available. What type of information are we then talking about?
This is information such as: your own travel schedule; when and where your kids have their next football training; the phone number to your kids’ friends’ parents etc. Information needed when on the move and that facilitates a normal everyday life. These types of services are many but each one is used by quite few and they thereby belong to the Long Tail of mobile services, borrowing the term first introduction by Chris Anderson in 2004.
In a trial with a number of day care centres in Stockholm, done in cooperation between Squace, SICS ,Vinnova, the possibility to get schedules, contact information etc. has been very well received by the parents and resulted in that many now use the mobile Internet for the first time and regularly. The same effect has been seen as a result of mobile extensions of web sites for kids’ sport teams, school sites, local communities etc. The value of the content to the individual is not a function how many that value that specific piece of content but rather how unique and difficult the content is to substitute and access. The entry point to the mobile Internet services thereby seems to be the end of the long tail and not as was seen in the early days of the web where we started with the most popular services and then found niche content. It’s now time to turn the picture around; the success of the mobile Internet comes from starting with small services. This phenomenon is called the Reversed Long Tail. The users will gradually explore more services and probably the usage pattern will eventually be similar to the PC.
To improve the value of mobile access to the Internet, and to get people starting to use the services, niche content thereby has to be available. And as we all are interested and value different things in life the whole Internet and the long tail of content thereby needs to be accessible and in a user friendly way. Key to this development is that all micro communities and sites with a very limited number of users can distribute their content to the mobile in a very convenient and cost efficient way without bothering about all the messy technical complexity that we unfortunately presently have. They also need to rely on technologies that can deliver the content independently of what device the user has. The best example of a UMI that presently deliver this is Squace, that now also are just about to release their new version of the UMI Squace service.
Many times I find myself taking for granted that all organisations and companies understand the importance of having their web content and services accessible through the mobile phone. All don’t, and many seem not even to have reflected over the need. Others have, but show a reluctance to create a mobile version of there web site. Indeed, there are a number of very good reasons why they should be sceptical, such as: cost, limited penetration, immature technology etc.
But what can they then gain by doing a specific mobile version of their site/service? This depends on the explicit requirements and environment. The needs the PC and the mobile phone meet can be categorised in two dimensions: timing – is the need immediate or can it wait; and complexity – does the service demand a large screen and keyboard to be used in a proper way. The first dimension, timing, is very hard to circumvent while the other, complexity, may be reduced by making the site much simpler and by using a concept such as UMI.
A very simple answer to those that wonder if they should do a mobile site is to respond with the following questions: Is it important for those you address to always be able to have immediate access to the site? If yes, is it possible for you to simplify the site so that it is possible to use over the mobile and more or less any mobile? I would argue that the answer to the second question is always yes, but it may demand some additional work to realise. But are then the users as logical as predicted above in terms of when they use one device as an alternative to the other? Do they really use the optimal tool? No, experience has shown that there are many reasons to act less rational.
Comparing the PC to the mobile, there are clear differences in how they are used, when they are used, why they are used, why they are not used, differences in screen size etc. The table highlight the limitations of a PC compared to a mobile phone and vice versa. Special attention is given to why the devices are used despite not being an obvious choice.
Reasons not to use the mobile when it still would be the best choice are mainly due to lack of experience and knowledge about the mobile. There are still limited possibilities for cost control, the settings may not be correct and the user may not even know how to use additional features and clients on the phone. These barriers are all expected to gradually decrease in importance as the maturity improves over time. Reasons to use the mobile when the PC would be a better choice are different in nature and can be expected to remain. The most significant one is of course that there is a quite limited penetration of PCs in many regions. But there are also less logical reasons such as laziness, similar to why many of us have made more expensive calls from a mobile as we don’t have the energy to look up the phone number and then make a cheap call from a fixed line phone when in reach.
In conclusion, you do not need to do a mobile version of your web content if: there’s no need for your users to access your site when only having a mobile phone available; and if the web site is so simple and with so limited functionality that it can be used directly on any mobile. I guess however that most will conclude that they need good, ubiquitous and user-friendly mobile presence and that the present web site is unable to deliver a good enough user experience. In addition, please keep in mind that the mobile will also be used in situations where you would expect the user to prefer the PC.
The reach of the mobile phone by far outnumbers any other communication device. There is today about 4 billion mobile subscribers and half of the worlds population is estimated to have the possibility to access the Internet through the mobile by 2010. This should be compared to about 1 billion PCs accessing the Internet. In addition the PC penetration is very low in developing countries. In Africa the mobile penetration was about 30% by the end of 2007 and is estimated by Africa & Middle East Telecom Week to pass 50% already 2010. This should be compared with the overall Internet usage penetration in Africa which according to Internet World Stats was only 5.6% by the end of 2008. The primary access point to the Internet will for the majority be the mobile and not a PC. Already today all phones have the capability to receive and send sms giving messaging services a superior reach but there are clear limitations with sms compared to Internet services.
There are a number of issues to address in developing countries. These are different from one country or region to the other and the possibilities to find solutions are not the same. There are some general needs, such as political stability and democracy, education, working financial system, health care, distribution of wealth, human rights, transparency etc. The capability of the mobile phone to act as a tool to educate and gain knowledge as well as spreading viewpoints and communicate with the rest of the world, support but do of course not directly solve all the issues. This importance of the mobile phone has been recognised by organisations and agencies such as the UN and USAID, which support and reward new mobile services suitable to meet the needs of developing countries. The community MobileActive.org work actively in trying to increase the effectiveness of NGOs through mobile technology.
In industrialised areas such as the US and Europe, we presently debate the LTE (4G), iPhone, app stores and advanced smart phone (high end device) applications as the solution to increase usage of advanced and a new generation of mobile services. These new services will not for the foreseeable future be a solution for developing countries. They are many times too costly and are most often not possible to use independently of device and operator. What’s needed are services that give access to the Internet, the whole Internet and not just the very limited mobile Internet sites, through all mobile phones including the lowest level of Internet capable phones. There should also be possibilities to easily publish content directly through the mobile. These services also have to be quite cost effective so that they can be offered for free to the end user. The services also have to be able to work on more or less any phone and phone operating system solving the issue with different mobile technologies. Even though it is important that all Internet sites are made available they still have to be transformed into a format that: substantially decreases the data capacity need; makes them readable and possible to brows on the small mobile screen; takes into account that there are no real keyboards on simple phones. Services that from many aspects may be brilliant, but can only be used on smart phones or a limited number of phones, will not penetrate these regions. What’s needed is a general Internet service platform that can migrate the vast user base from just using sms to taking advantage of the full Internet, but done in a way so that it’s easy to use and gives a decent user experience when using quite simple low end phones. I believe the Universal Mobile Interface concept is what can make all this happen.
Let’s invite the rest of the world to the Internet by making it possible to access the web over simple mobile phones. I’m convinced that we then put a very powerful tool in the hands of the people to support them in their ambition to improve their situation. In addition, this will also unleash massive innovation based on specific needs, as well as local limitations. Utilising a general platform that works independent of device and operator will also create an environment where viral and very fast distribution of information and services is possible. I really look forward to see how this can spur development and awareness.
One of the usability legends, Jakob Nielsen, has put together this well worth reading summary of mobile Internet (browser) experience of today. The simple conclusion is that – we are back in 1998. The mobile web experience of today is like the desktop web experience back in the late 90s. The last nine (9) years of development has in fact only lead to four (4) years worth of progress in mobile user experience. Not that efficient! And if the mobile web of today is at the level of the wired web in 1998, the handsets themselves are just 2-4 years behind the computer in terms of performance. In short – a gap of 4-6 years in user expectations.
Jakob, I do agree on most things, but the solution is not to create mobile web versions of every site and service. “That will not solve the issue – How do you get to the site (you have to know the URL and then tap a lot – tap, tap, tap), or if you find something of interest on that site – How do you share that with a friend?
useit.com: Jakob Nielsen’s Website
“Article in Swedish from the “Mobile Business idg.se“)