AND THE SURVEY SAYS… “Mobile First” Is A Dumb Strategy

There has been a lot of talk over the past couple of years about how laptops and desktops are toast and everything’s going mobile.

As a result, the prevailing wisdom is that companies should become:

  • “Mobile Only” (just forget big screens, keyboards, and mice–they’re dead)

Or, at least,

  • “Mobile First” (design everything for smartphones first and big screens as an afterthought) 

For some mobile-centric companies–Instagram, location-based apps, mobile games–these strategies obviously make sense. The applications the companies offer are centered on mobile gadgets.

For other companies, however–including some news and information companies that are frantically redesigning their businesses to focus on “Mobile First”–the strategy seems misguided.

The smarter strategy, I think, is this:

  • “Mobile, Too”

With the explosive growth of smartphones, tablets, and super-sleek laptops, mobile usage continues to grow as a percentage of overall Internet usage. In some countries, moreover, smartphones have already vaulted past laptops and desktops to become the dominant personal-computing device. In these countries, companies should obviously focus on mobile first.

But in the developed world, which already has a massive installed base of desktops and laptops, bigger screens are still extremely important. And they are likely to remain so, even when everyone who uses them also owns a smartphone and tablet.

Critically, the users of big screens, smartphones, and tablets access much of the same information and services across all these devices–they don’t adopt separate (and largely duplicative) services for each.

The “Wikipedia for smartphones,” for example, already exists: It’s called “Wikipedia.”

The “Amazon for smartphones” also exists: It’s called “Amazon.”

And the “Google for smartphones” exists: It’s called “Google.”

In short, in developed markets, the reality is that we live in a multi-screen world, not a “mobile world” that operates parallel to a “desktop world.”

And for some services, such as news and information, the laptop/desktop screen is still by far the most dominant screen. So abandoning that screen, or designing for another screen first, just doesn’t make sense.

To illustrate this, I recently published a picture of the Business Insider newsroom, which is populated by ~50 of the most digitally savvy mobile information consumers on earth. The folks in our newsroom are nuts about mobile gadgets. And yet, there is not a single person in the newsroom whose primary office device is a smartphone (or even tablet).

BI Newsroom

[credit provider=”Henry Blodget”]

And why would it be?

We all work for 8-12 hours a day at a desk. Why would we spend that time staring at a tiny mobile screen?

(Yes, some of us power our big screens with portable laptops and Minis, but we still use keyboards and mice. And if any of us ever decide to make a tablet or smartphone our primary office gadget, we’ll almost certainly attach it to a monitor, keyboard, and mouse. Would you type on a smartphone keyboard all day if you didn’t have to?)

We all also have smartphones, of course.

And many of us have tablets.

And we use those devices, too.

When we’re walking around, we use our smartphones.

When we’re at home, we use laptops or tablets.

Then, when we get into the office, we fire up our big screens again.

In short, we use all of our gadgets. And we read Business Insider and other publications on all of them.

So the idea that we would suddenly drop everything and design Business Insider for, say, smartphones first just doesn’t make any sense.

If we did that we would annoy the millions of readers who read Business Insider through laptops, desktops, and tablets every month.

Almost 30% of our readership now comes through tablets and smartphones. That’s why we have a mobile site that is designed to be read on smartphones. And it’s also why we give our mobile readers the ability to use the full site–or a dedicated iPhone and Android app–if they want. Mobile is growing rapidly, and we want our readers to be able to read us wherever they are: Home, work, on the road, and everywhere in between. So our strategy is to provide a good BI experience on every screen — a.k.a., “Mobile, Too.”

We often talk about our mobile strategy internally, though, and we certainly want to give you–our readers–what you want.

So if you ever want “mobile first,” that’s certainly what we will give you.

For now, however, “mobile first” is not what you, our readers, seem to want.

Rather, you want “Mobile, Too.

How do we know this?

Because we asked you!

Earlier this week, we asked our readers for their help in answering 6 questions relevant to this discussion. Here are the answers we got.

QUESTION 1: Which of the following devices do you use regularly?

The goal here was to figure out what devices our readers are using. The answers match our internal site logs. Laptops/Desktops are the most popular, followed by smartphones and tablets.

What Devices Do People Use?

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QUESTION 2: Which of these devices do you use to read news and information?

The answer here is simple: All of them.

What Devices Do People Use For News

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QUESTION 3: Which of these devices do you use to read the MOST news and information?

This one should rattle folks who are designing for “mobile first.” Desktops and laptops are still by far the predominant devices through which news and information is consumed.

Which devices do people read the most

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QUESTION 4: When you read digital news and information, which of the following do you do regularly?

The next question is HOW people read news and information on their gadgets. And the key question is whether people use browsers and web sites or “apps”–and, if apps, what kind of apps. The answer, again, is clear:

News web sites are still the predominant means by which people consume news and information. Social media and other referral links are also important. Apps from news sites are used by about 30% of readers. “Aggregation” apps are used by less than 20%.

How do people read news

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QUESTION 5: When you read news and information on your SMARTPHONE, which of the following do you do regularly?

One key question for news and content sites is whether they should emphasise “apps” or the web when delivering their content to readers over smartphones. For now, the answer is “both.” Readers access content over smartphones using both dedicated site apps and the web. “Aggregation apps” are less popular.

How do people read news on smartphones

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QUESTION 6: When you read news and information on a TABLET, which of the following do you do regularly?

The tablet is a hybrid device, and it’s primarily used for consumption. People use tablets differently than smartphones, desktops, and laptops, so it makes sense to direct a question specifically to tablet usage. The browser is the dominant “app” for information consumption on tablets, followed by dedicated apps.

How do people read news on tablets

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Where things stand now, therefore, is that we’re in a multi-screen world: In developed countries, people consume news and other content through all devices, and laptops and desktops are still dominant.

Usage by Business Insider readers, by the way, isn’t substantially different from broader surveys: If anything, Business Insider readers are more mobile-centric than typical readers–and yet news consumption from mobile gadgets is still a minority of overall consumption. (This Pew study, for example, found that 15% of Americans access news from mobile phones, while 46% access it “online.”)

The percentage of usage from mobile gadgets will obviously continue to increase, especially when one considers tablets “mobile.”

But as long as there are offices and desks, it seems highly unlikely that big screens, keyboards, and touchpads/mice are going to become an afterthought. And with about 60% of mobile phones in America already smartphones, it also seems unlikely that smartphone content consumption will eclipse laptop/desktop consumption, at least not anytime soon.

The bottom line is this:

For news and information companies, at least those that primarily serve developed markets, the smart strategy is not “Mobile Only” or even “Mobile First.”

It’s “Mobile, Too.”

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