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April 8, 2010

The case for a mobile friendly website

In 2007, it was estimated that 36%-40% of the world’s population carried a mobile device giving us an estimate of 2.4-2.7 billion people carrying at least one phone. At that same time several writers projected that based on current growth estimates, sometime around 2010 to 2012 (depending on who you asked) we might hit 3.3-3.6 billion mobile devices.

Well, here we are in 2010 and according to a UN report published in March 2009 it was estimated that there were already 4.1 billion mobile phone subscribers  at the end of 2008 (60% of the world population), with the fastest growing country being… Pakistan.

Additionally, it was noted that there had been a clear shift from fixed to mobile cellular phone use and that in the same reporting period there were over three times more mobile cellular phone subscriptions than fixed telephone lines globally. Two thirds of those mobile phones are found in the developing world compared to less than half in 2002.

Why does this matter?

Because among Gen Y (and younger) and throughout many parts of the developing world the cell phone or other mobile devices are becoming the first device of choice (or necessity) for interacting with the Internet, for making online purchases, for banking, etc… South Korea, a country considered to be at the leading edge of digital communications is a place now where nearly everything is done through your cell phone and the simple idea of getting a plastic card to use for purchasing is archaic and offered as a courtesy option to banking customers who think they might be traveling out of the country.

This leads us to another thing to be aware of when you look at that graph above. The racing climb of mobile devices also represents a growing class of web users that may be visiting your website, buying your products, trying to get customer support.

It was estimated that in 2008, the number of mobile Internet users had reached 1.05 billion, surpassing the number of PC web users (1 billion) for the first time ever.

The natural questions become, why isn’t your website mobile friendly? And, if you’re doing any kind of e-commerce, why isn’t your store front not only mobile friendly but able to accept payments in the common methods of payment frequented by your customer base?

If you don’t have the answer, your business could be in trouble. Even the best established business relationship or brand loyalty can dissolve in the blink of an eye when there is a major change in the way society communicates.

You can see this taking place right now across all aspects of the publishing world. Non-Internet based media companies have spent the greater part of decade trying to figure out how to apply their business models to Internet communications rather than the other way around. For example let’s take the contemporary case of the newspaper classifieds. Classifieds were the mainstay of newspaper revenue for over a hundred years in the U.S. but they were never a perfect process for users. Limited words, fees, trying to figure out what days you wanted your ad to show up… these things all presented challenges to customers using the service. Then a very basic website called Craigslist showed up which was free to read, free to post (short of fees for job postings and some services) and had no real limits on word counts or listing durations. Within a few short years the classifieds industry was decimated and many newspapers soon found themselves going out of business because they could not or would not adapt.

So let’s bring this all around… in short everything I’m talking about here relates to location and convenience. These fundamental elements have been key to business success since the dawn of time. Real-estate agents get it “Location, Location, Location!”. Traditional marketing people get it “Go to where the customers are”.

People are on the web, people are using their cell phones to use the web. People are using their cell phones for the majority of their day to day communications when you take in voice, SMS, web, chat, gaming, etc… Do your children have their own cell phone? Does each child have their own cell phone? When they grow up to be a consumer, will your company be positioned to communicate to them in a way that they expect to be talked to or are you simply expecting them to learn an archaic way to talk to you based on how you talk today? When you get that Fax with their answer let me know.

Get it? Good. Next you need to actually have something relevant on your website for visitors to see when they get there on their cell phone, but that’s another conversation all together.

My thanks to the following resources for my data:

  • http://communities-dominate.blogs.com/brands/2007/01/putting_27_bill.html
  • http://www.itu.int/newsroom/press_releases/2009/07.html
  • http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/25/technology/25iht-mobile.html
  • http://wapreview.com/blog/?p=3019
  • http://www.tomiahonen.com/ebook/almanac.html
  • http://www.shirky.com/weblog/2009/03/newspapers-and-thinking-the-unthinkable/
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