Any day now, some new Android or iPhone user will activate her freshly-purchased phone and, like that, the world will change.
Because at that very moment, more than half of all active cellphones in the U.S. will be smartphones.
More than half.
And that number will not simply hold steady. I imagine it will continue its sharp trajectory towards something close to 70% in short order. And why not? Smartphones represent the most rapidly adopted consumer technology of all time.
But the raw numbers don’t matter as much as this: It’s now a safe bet that the average person in the United States who has a phone in his pocket is actually carrying around a little computer with — thanks to the rules of the carriers — a robust data plan.
Which brings me to the question which ended my last post: In a world of shrinking newsprint, how can local news organizations reclaim their position in their markets as the habitual go-to source for meaningful and useful journalism and relevant advertising?
They need to stop thinking about eyeballs, and start thinking about pockets. As in paying off on the promise that they can deliver my town, in my pocket, in a compelling mobile presentation, customized to my needs. Because, every time I dip into my pocket for my phone, whether on a whim or in response to an alert that I allowed to ring, I have choices. And, increasingly, the battle for casual and engaged news consumers will happen on pocket mobile devices (tablets too, but that’s another post).
It’s taken 15+ years for the local news industry to embrace online in a meaningful way (forgetting the regrettably unfocused paywall experiments underway), but the goalposts just moved again. And this time, there will not be the luxury of years to get the strategy right.
And the right strategy is to embrace the change that’s upon us all with a mobile-first approach.
Mobile-first means solving the communications and revenue challenges first for that 3-4 inch slab of glass. It doesn’t mean abandoning the desktop web — like printed newspapers in 1995, there’s too much of an installed base to ignore — but it does mean that all effort towards innovation should be channeled to the smallest screens first. Solve for a tiny space and the larger palette will take care of itself. Your in-house developers and designers should not be mocking up web pages if they haven’t shown you a world-class mobile solution first.
In the past mobile has been the afterthought stapled onto the primary web presentation; going forward, it is the user-centric engine that will help news organizations to recapture their lost users and to recreate The Daily Habit. Ignore this at your peril.
A few thoughts about mobile-first:
- Despite what you’ve heard, it’s not just about apps. Not at first. Mobile-first is a strategy that does include apps secondarily, but is focused primarily on the tools everyone has on their phones: web, email, text-messaging, alerts and maps. More mobile users use their phone’s installed web browser over individual apps. That doesn’t mean your mobile site can’t look and act like an app — it should — but you absolutely have to have an outstanding mobile web solution before you unleash the developers on the App Store.
- This spread of behavior favoring mobile web over apps will likely continue as new (and more casual) consumer users of smartphones will tend to be less experimental than the smartphone early-adopters of 2007-2010.
- Under a successful mobile-first approach, your users’ patterns will likely change. Freed from the Monday-Friday workplace-surfing paradigm set first in the late 90s, mobile users of local news and information are just as likely — more likely even — to dip into their pockets in the evening or on the weekend. Are you ready for that shift?
- Mobile-first serves as a great gateway for user-generated content. With the right mobile-optimized tools and apps, publishers should make it one-click easy for a user to comment, join a discussion, review a restaurant, add a video, a photo or an event listing. Making UGC tools mobile-friendly removes friction and makes it more likely that users will contribute to the content mix.
Are you building a mobile-first solution for your users? A majority of them probably wish you would.