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The mobile revolution

Ray WellingI was at a digital conference last year where, during the morning session, nearly every speaker declared, “This is the year of mobile”. Then after lunch, the first speaker opened his presentation by saying, “With all due respect, people have been declaring each year the year of mobile for the past five years, so take everything you heard this morning with a grain of salt. Having said that, eventually they’ll be right!”

So is this finally the year of mobile? It could very well be. Consider a few statistics:

Mobile phone ownership in Australia now stands at more than 80% of the population, and nearly 60% have smartphones (second highest proportion in the world), which they’re using to access the Internet any time, anywhere.

According to Nielsen, Australians are the biggest users of social media in the world, with nearly half the population spending nearly seven hours per month on Facebook, Twitter, etc. A high percentage of this social media use is via mobile devices.

The percentage of people who store data in ‘the cloud’ (remote servers rather than your own hard drive) is more than 65% in Australia.

Mobile web adoption is growing at a rate eight times faster than the desktop web. At the end of 2010, 12% of all Google queries were coming from mobile devices, exhibiting a 3000% growth rate over three years.

Internet traffic via mobile devices is set to eclipse the amount of traffic coming via desktop devices either late this year or early next year. When you consider the growth of the internet in recent years, combined with the fact that 10 years ago it wasn’t even possible to access the internet wirelessly, this figure is absolutely mind-blowing.

A study released this week showed that nearly 70% of tablet users regularly use tablets in their bedroom (mainly for reading books – get your mind out of the gutter!), while 63% use it to multi-task while in the lounge room.

That above study ties into numbers from Google that show that mobile web use peaks at 11 p.m. and on weekends, the exact opposite of desktop web use.

I could go on and on, but suffice to say that if you have on online presence, you can no longer just rely on optimising how your website looks and works on a desktop device. You need to be accessible on all devices – and your mobile presence needs to work.

Is the answer to create an iPhone app? As a small business, the answer is probably no. An iPhone app is what is known as s ‘native app’, which means it will only work on an iOS device (iPhone, iPad or iPod). iPhone apps can be quite expensive to develop, and as popular as Apple is, you’re limiting your availability, ignoring Android and thousands of other devices that people use to access the Internet.

A more efficient way to tackle this is to focus on ‘mobile-optimising’ your current website. This means looking at how your current website appears on a mobile device and getting your web team to redesign your important pages so that they are easier on the eye and easier to use via a mobile device.

This doesn’t mean an app is out of the question per se. The solution may be to develop a ‘mobile web application’, which, without going into too much technical detail, means you can create a shortcut that can be downloaded onto a mobile device that looks like an iPhone app, but which instead of opening an app, takes you to a mobile-optimised site.

This may not look quite as sexy as an iPhone app, but it will be available on all mobile devices, and it is much easier and cheaper to update. Your customers can also interact with you in real time, just as they can with your current website.

So, get on your smartphone or your tablet and take a look at your website. If you don’t like what you see (prediction: You probably won’t. A recent exercise by a marketing website showed that nearly every major bank in Australia had a sub-par mobile presence), have a chat to your web team about what you can do. And if your current developers can’t offer you some simple steps to improving your mobile presence, it’s time to look for a new technical partner.

Dr. Ray Welling is the director of digital strategy & communications for healthcare communications consultancy Vivacity Health. He also manages a small digital content agency and strategic consultancy and lectures in marketing at Macquarie University.

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