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.
I participated in the in the industry panel at Open House at Mobile Life Centre in Kista. Represented in the panel were, except for myself representing Squace, Ericsson – Martin Körling, Sony Ericsson – Troed Sångberg and TeliaSonera – Johan Wickman. The panel was moderated by professor Lars Erik Holmquist, Mobile Life Centre. The topic as phrased in the programme: “Mobile services have been stuck in a winter, closely guarded by specialized engineers and proprietary business models. Now, the ice is melting – operators, device manufacturers and infrastructure providers are opening up their walled gardens, telling their most valuable secrets and sharing opportunities with the masses. Or are they?”
There was clearly a joint understanding that an open approach is needed and that walled garden and vertical approaches will slow down the development and limit the success of the mobile Internet. However, we may put different meaning to the word “opened”. Operators and device manufactures have over the years shown a clear reluctance to open up to not decrease their competitiveness. We can hope that this will now change but take their somewhat conflicting strategic agendas into account. This change will not come easy, both due to their need to differentiate but even more importantly due to mindset and culture which is very seldom changed very quickly.
The direct question on if the solution to overcome the complexity and key barriers to innovations and growth is a common operating system illustrates the core of the issue. This is a very technical approach to the problem and the panel have somewhat different view on if this is even necessary and if it will happen, how long this will take. The concept of a horizontal layer over all different operating systems were discuss as a faster and most probable solution as the present players presently have limited incentives to agree on a common operating. This is what the Universal Mobile Interface is, one generic interface towards the content providers so they don’t need to bother about all different operating systems etc. and at the same time a generic interface for the end user so that they can freely change from one device to the other without being lost.
In conclusion we may now see a “Mobile Glasnost”, but this just one of the first steps and there are still many obstacles ahead. Remember that Glasnost created a very painful transformation phase for Russia. As Russia do, we will have to deal with many future issues, they are probably not be called mafia, oligarchs, Putin and Chechnya, but we need to remember that the Glasnost was probably necessary start and that change of mindset and culture is one of the hardest things to accomplish.