The dramatic rise in the use of mobile devices is evident all around us: business people on benches in the park scrolling through the latest news articles on their lunch break, new parents using price comparison apps to ensure the weekly nappy spend is within budget, and of course for every street gathering of children or teens, at least one is guaranteed to be checking their phone. Here in Oxford during tourist season, phone cameras have greatly eclipsed regular digital cameras as the method of choice for documenting a rainy summer abroad.
According to a study by Cisco, the growth of internet traffic on mobile devices is predicted to grow by 66% each year until 2017, at which point total mobile internet traffic is anticipated to exceed fixed (or "non-mobile") traffic. Sales of tablets are predicted to overtake PC sales in the next couple of years and more apps are being produced to make viewing online content on mobile devices quicker and easier. The way we view the internet continues to rapidly evolve.
To keep up with the changing way we view the web, most new websites are optimized for tablet and mobile. Existing sites are redesigned and relaunched with mobile-friendly interfaces, and even the kind of information they display - the very purpose of these websites is evolving in order to stay relevant. But how? And do you need to alter your website?
As mentioned before, apps are increasing in number. Popular business networking site LinkedIn was initially designed as an online CV and employer database with embellished functionality. Now it has five mobile apps to carry out different functions to help tailor site experience to various user categories. For example, the 'Recruiter App' was produced to connect job seekers with recruiters. LinkedIn also bought newsreader service app 'Pulse' last year, hoping to increase regular site usage with informative industry and business articles. However, there needed to be an underlying reason for such an expensive takeover and the costly developer time needed to produce these apps. LinkedIn plan to monetize extra page visits by using advertisements.
Mobile devices, are best equipped for information consumption on the move, rather than content creation (mainly due to slowness and inaccuracies of touch-screen keyboards or tiny keys). The commute to London on the Oxford Tube is made much more palatable with a tablet to hand. Engaging daily articles from Pulse and simplified viewing and navigation provided by the other apps should make them much more appealing to this sort of audience. Additionally, regular site updates also improve Google and other search engine rankings and therefore increased 'hits' - the benefits of a dynamic site in the vast majority of cases can't be disputed!
Although LinkedIn is a successful company attaining yearly growth, as things currently stand, their takings are mainly obtained from recruiters paying for database access. When you compare its figures to other popular sites, it is clear there are better revenue models in existence: Facebook boasts over one billion users visiting at least once a month compared to LinkedIn's 200 million (out of more than 300 million members) coupled with a slower rate of income growth. Although LinkedIn has never called itself a 'social network' it realizes that the ad models used by content rich sites such as Twitter and Facebook will increase its growth, allowing it to keep pace as one of the world's most prominent websites. Increased phone and tablet usage from commuters and casual evening and weekend browsing is propelling a web-wide increase in content-driven sites.
Taking mobile development a step further, online photo and video sharing site Instagram, created in October 2010, was one of the first companies to adopt a 'mobile first' ethos; the Instagram website wasn't rolled out until early 2012, having existed purely as an app for Apple and Android products prior to this date. Instagram entered the market with a dynamic, innovative attitude and armed itself with endless quirky, retro photo filters to appeal to a growing hipster community. Its pioneering 'mobile first' approach: primarily designing for small screen access, worked well for the company. Their app pre-empted a genuine need of a public platform to upload and share photos taken on-the-go with phone cameras. However, the 'mobile first' design method is only suitable for certain applications which fulfil similar market demands. In truth, few such companies have achieved great commercial success: it has always been difficult to predict market paradigm shifts in technology development. As the pace of change quickens, predicting the next trend in technology usage is viewed by most as a black art.
Apps are currently only economically viable (and constructive) for large businesses. However, we'll discuss excellent alternatives for smaller companies in later sections of this article. In 'Part 2' of 'How Mobile Devices are Shaping Websites and Software', we expand further on the history of paradigm shifts in technology and discusses the widely criticized Windows 8 operating system.