First, allow me to thank you for taking time out from your Cyber Monday to read this. You won't regret this small break from making web-based contributions to the global economy. If you are reading this and it is not Cyber Monday, then please accept my belated thanks for your role in making this year's holiday retail sales the (insert pundit's assessment here) that they were.
The whole business of Adobe repositioning itself as the champion of HTML5 for web content presentation has kicked up a lot of dust in the technology and marketing press. Companies far and wide were either breathlessly claiming that "Flash is dead!" or were rationalizing why they will stick with the technology. While wading through all of it the thought occurred to me that, regardless of whether Adobe's maneuverings really mean anything to you and your company, the question of your readiness to embrace the mobile web has been thrust to the fore.
The mobile Web is not the same as the Web on a mobile device. For over a decade "the Web" has meant a (more or less) 900x600-pixel landscape live area, broadband-level connectivity, pointing / clicking / dragging with a mouse, data entry by QWERTY keyboard, and a seated, (more or less) attentive user.
View that same site on a smartphone or tablet and we can see - even if the native browser scales it down - the usability tends to degrade to unacceptable levels: Interfaces become too small, data entry becomes onerous, and content appearance becomes unbalanced. Then, if the user's shifts the device to a portrait orientation everything can become even wackier. Regardless of the care taken with design touches the "seated web" was not planned to accommodate a user on the move, to say nothing of a 90-degree orientation change. Or dodgy connectivity. Or missing plug-in-based content.
Time To Re-Evaluate
In its fully evolved state web content not only conforms to, but is enhanced by, its environment. This is a new consideration for most marketers, but one that rewards a little strategic attention. Fully evolved web content redraws on a mobile device first to deliver appropriate hierarchical context to information, then second to manage scale. Interfaces should adapt to provide inputs appropriate not only to the physical space, but to leverage the device's capabilities. Baked into the style guide for a mobile web site should be the acknowledgement that the beauty of the user experience is measured as much by graceful reorientation to suit the user's device as by the pixel perfection of element placement on the screen.
On this Cyber Monday, while you allow time for your credit card to cool down, you may want to consider the following questions to help put this into the proper context for you. There are no right or wrong answers here, except that when envisioning your online presence in an increasingly mobile world, you cannot have no answer.
- Is your personal time online spent in large blocks or in a greater amount of smaller spurts? Is this reflective of your desired audience?
- Do your users multitask with your content, or does you content require and reward focus?
- If your content's "search-ability" was perfected would being "above the fold" really matter?
- Could your current online offering be made to be less presentation and more conversation?
- Can you break down your online offering into a greater number of smaller segments?
- Do you mind "percent loaded" screens?
- Are there login/authentication requirements for your users to access the most useful content?
- Can your communications and/or commerce strategy benefit from location-sensitivity?
- What would the impact be of doing more to segment your various types of users at the home page? Or before the home page?
The Last 12 Inches
Mobile computing is insinuating itself into the lifestyles of an increasing number of consumers. They may not realize that settling a dinner table bet on what year Queen Elizabeth was born is mobile computing, and that's exactly the point: Consumers are adopting new use habits more rapidly than many marketers are adapting the ways they reach those consumers. What these habits mean matters far less than what results they deliver.
Focusing on delivering better results in this new environment is actually a huge opportunity for marketers willing to undertake a wholesale re-evaluation of what matters most in their brand communications. Marketers should accept the challenge to think more strategically about that last 12 inches - the distance between a smartphone screen and the user's face, which includes the user's environment - than they have had to before.
For marketers, the mobile question has nothing to do with Adobe, HTML5 or even Her Majesty The Queen. It starts with the brand, and ends with consumers and other stakeholders. Recognizing how this relationship has evolved from the "seated web" through today's more mobile user will reap big dividends next Cyber Monday, and probably every other Monday in the calendar as well.
Now, back to shopping.