Mobile first! It sounds like a battle cry, or a motto, or a mission. Just what it means is not always clear, but we’re hearing it everywhere lately, and for mobile publishers and advertisers, it’s time to listen. If it’s been drifting around at the bottom of your priority list, consider figuring it out now, and start making it happen. Mobile first is no longer a nice-to-have option—it’s a necessity, and a new reality that must be served.
Reality shows up in the numbers. A 2014 ComScore report revealed that U.S. users who spend time on digital media platforms are using smartphones and tablets 60 percent of that time. Mobile apps are doing their part to boost the mobile platform, as they now account for 52 percent of total digital media engagement. Today apps, “considered a mere fad a few years ago, are completely dominating mobile,” blogger Simon Khalaf writes, “and the browser has become a single application swimming in a sea of apps.”
Rapid mobile growth is a global phenomenon, as Flurry reported upon a recent scan of the mobile landscape. From Q2 2014 to Q2 2015, it measured 38 percent growth in the total number of smart devices worldwide. Categorizing hundreds of millions of mobile consumers by how frequently they use apps, the number of “regular” users (up to 16 times a day) grew by 25 percent; “super” users (up to 60 times a day) by 34 percent; and “mobile addicts” (more than 60 times a day) by 59 percent.
So where do we go from here? One perspective takes us back to fundamentals: design and development. The standard top-down design process builds sites to function on a large-screen desktop system, then strips them down to fit the much smaller mobile screen. Among other shortcomings, this approach sacrifices cool new features that are unique to mobile, like integrated GPS and voice input. In contrast, mobile first development makes it possible to produce visually appealing, easy-to-navigate sites for mobile devices. The typical design process is reversed, starting small and expanding upward to work on larger screens.
Top-down design also has an impact on the crucial need for speed. It burdens mobile sites with too much irrelevant information, slowing down page loads to the point where impatient users give up and move on. The best user experiences result when mobile sites are designed to function as mobile sites from the beginning.
There’s another dimension to mobile first, and that’s reaching out to users at the right moment, with the right information. “Consumer behavior and expectations have forever changed,” as Google sees it. “We turn to our phones with intent and expect brands to deliver immediate answers.” Mobile offers unprecedented opportunities for engaging consumers with relevant content, and we can expect more brands to discover that mobile is the ideal channel for content marketing.
And then there are the millennials, who perhaps give mobile first its deepest meaning. Young adults from 18 to 34 are already the largest generation in the U.S. workforce, and they’re destined to overtake baby boomers as the largest demographic group in the U.S. before too long. Not just digital natives, millennials are digital beings who live their lives on smartphones and tablets. Some 15 percent use their mobile devices to go online, and among them some have no other Internet access. Could that alone be reason enough to take up a new battle cry, a new motto, a new mission? Mobile first!