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Is Mobile-First Truly Dead? Don’t Be Ridiculous!

Chris Osterhout SVP of Strategy
#Industry Insights, #Mobile
Published on February 25, 2014

Current internet buzz says that mobile-first is dead, and companies should be focusing on platforms instead. Learn why we think this isn't the case.

The recent buzz online is that mobile-first web design is dead, and since everyone uses mobile devices to access the web, companies should be focusing on creating native mobile apps rather than mobile websites. “Pick your platform” is the advice that is regularly being proffered, as industry insiders encourage companies to try to target their content toward users of specific devices like iPhones, iPads, Android phones, or Blackberries. The idea is that since people are becoming more technologically savvy and mobile devices are becoming ubiquitous, we need to try to take advantage of that technology to provide them with the best experience. But is this actually good advice?

The problem with this line of thinking is that it assumes that every company already has a mobile website and is ready to compartmentalize their content to fit a multitude of possible devices. The reality is that tens of thousands of companies don’t yet have a mobile website, so encouraging them to jump straight into developing a native app probably isn’t the best idea, especially since the development of a native app can cost at least tens of thousands or even as much as hundreds of thousands of dollars for the initial build.

Do I Need A Mobile App?

A native mobile app serves a very specific purpose for a company (for example, the Walgreens app can be used to refill prescriptions or order photos); it shouldn’t just be a replacement for their website. Before considering a native app, there are several questions that you should ask:

  • What purpose will this app serve?
  • Will you need to force users to download your app from Apple’s App Store or Google Play in order to access your content?
  • Across what variety of devices will you need to consider creating your app?
  • Will requiring users to use your native app inhibit your ability to convert visitors to customers?
  • Will this app be a roadblock for people trying to access your site?
  • What ROI will you get from a native app that you couldn’t get from a mobile site?

If these questions have you reconsidering the necessity of a native app, we agree with you. At WSOL, we think mobile-first is alive and well. When we design websites, we do our best to make them device agnostic, providing the best possible experience no matter what device, screen size, or browser visitors are using to access them. When we advise people to “pick your platform”, we’re referring to the CMS, the software that the site runs on; we want you to make sure you choose the solution that allows you to manage your website according to your needs and provides the best experience for your users.

However, we still believe it is important to understand the capabilities of the different devices that are used to access a website. Smartphones can use geolocation capabilities to serve up relevant content, and sites can utilize a device’s messaging capabilities to send reminders to users. Developers can use HTML 5 to take advantage of these features, and they should always be considered as part of the mobile website development process.

Mobile-First Vs. Mobile Native Apps

While we do believe the main focus of web development should be toward mobile-first, there is definitely a place for native mobile apps. If you do plan to develop a native app, you’ll want to do your research beforehand and understand your business requirements to make sure you’re getting the best ROI. You’ll want to understand what platforms dominate different channels (for instance, according to market research, while Android phones have a larger market share, iOS users are more likely to use mobile commerce apps) and make sure you are targeting the right audience. There’s a lot to consider, so feel free to contact us if you have any questions about how to approach developing either a mobile website or a native app. Do you have any tips of your own about how you’ve used your mobile website or app to reach users? Please let us know in the comments below.