By adaptive - November 5th, 2015
Many consumer startups are now designed for the mobile world, with their consumer-facing apps designed for the small screen formats that fit into your pocket or purse. But older tech companies that launched on the web debuted on larger desktop computers with different, and oftentimes greater, functionality.
The content contrast is not the only difference, there is obviously the change in navigation from the point and click mouse to the touchscreen.
As tech execs and observers are quick to point out, the smartphone era is only eight years old, so many Web 1.0 companies have been evolving and experimenting through the nascent stages of this growing mobile marketplace.
In the second part of this report, Open Mobile’s Robert Gray examines how some of the best-known consumer apps have not only made a successful transition to mobile first, smart devices have unlocked new features and functionality.
TripAdvisor was conceived to alleviate some of the stress and time-sucking nature of travel planning. After all, it can be difficult enough to decide where to stay much less where to eat, which historical or tourist sites will live up to the hype, and what the weather’s really like (when it’s not an impossibly sunny day as depicted on a resort’s website).
The site sought to provide real-world experiences, “insider tips”, and user reviews as well as a helping hand booking the excursion. That was handled easily enough on desktop, but the move to mobile predictably created some challenges.
“There’s a skill-set aspect to mobile development, every company is wrestling with it right now,” says Adam Medros, senior vice president, global product for TripAdvisor. But he says the company embraced the move and the opportunities it brought to the business: “From the consumer’s standpoint, we want them to use TripAdvisor from the couch when planning the vacation or in-market on the trip. We’re thinking less mobile-first and more mobile always.”
Medros also notes that in the company’s early days it helped customers plan vacations but didn’t have much of a role once they got to their destination. But now mobile has opened up new possibilities for in-market use that desktop planning didn’t afford. “We built Near Me Now and with one button I can get information on everything around me now. It’s irrelevant on desktop and super relevant on a mobile device.”
Going mobile similarly allowed OpenTable to add its new payment feature, which wouldn’t have made sense on desktop. Jocelyn Mangan, senior vice president product management for OpenTable, says, “Every time we add something we think about how it will enhance the dining experience. Every bit of real estate on your app is valuable.”
Sea Change: Mobile use swells
This is a key point as earlier this year the sea change to mobile was realized as app usage surpassed desktop usage and began accounting for half of all U.S. digital media consumption. This milestone shows just how far this platform has come in overtaking desktop’s longstanding dominance as the primary gateway to the internet.
In March, the number of mobile-only adult internet users for the first time exceeded the number of desktop-only internet users.
TripAdvisor’s Medros is quick to note, however, that it’s not a zero sum game, at least for his company: ”A lot of companies have talked about mobile first because it’s cannibalizing their desktop business. It’s not happening to us, it’s complementary to our desktop. We’re expanding our footprint by investing in mobile as opposed to stemming the loss of advertising revenue as people transition time and search activity away from desktop to mobile.”
And big brands are thinking global expansion thanks to mobile. Evernote for one gets the lion’s share of its traffic outside the US.
“Mobile is now the fastest-growing user-acquisition channel for Evernote,” notes the company’s Jamie Hull, vice president of mobile products. “This is especially true in emerging global markets where mobile is the primary or only device that consumers use—more than 75% of Evernote’s users are actually outside the U.S.”
Just want your extra time and your KISS
Keep it simple stupid (KISS) is more than a military motto, it applies to apps, too. Tech execs realized that early iterations of smartphones required them to boil their grand web-based enterprises down the essential offerings. And many of them say they’re better for it.
“It’s better to do fewer things well in an app than it is to do many things in a mediocre way,” asserts John Vars, chief product officer at TaskRabbit, adding, “There is functionality we have on the web that we don’t have on mobile yet.”
Vars continues, “There’s an extremely high bar for graceful user experiences on mobile, perhaps because it became mainstream so long after the web and we knew what good experiences felt like.
“On the web, the value of great user experience is a relatively new thing. Mobile was born with it.”
That’s a luxury that so-called mobile native app developers intuitively build into their software, but existing services have had to experiment and cull the best functionality from the trials and tribulations of making web services seamlessly serve customers on smart devices.
Evernote’s Hull says its early experiences on smartphones were uneven, as users weren’t as willing to navigate through screens on a handheld device.
“We quickly discovered that user tolerance for apps that were slow, hard to navigate, or unable to access core functionality wouldn’t work in the mobile market,” Hull said, saying the company focused on “making complex feel simple.”
Hull dispensed this bit of hard-earned advice, “Developing for mobile platforms isn’t about making a smaller version of your existing app—if you’re doing this, you’re doing it wrong…you need to understand your users, what they’re going to need and where, and tailor your experiences accordingly.”
First impressions are critical
Evernote is not alone in focusing on relevancy, which executives say is critical to maintaining credibility and in some cases, keeping your consumer.
“You shouldn’t use data because it’s available, only if it’s useful to the user,” states Christophe Gillet, Vimeo’s director, audience product. Gillet says app’s should be mindful of user context when asking for permissions, “Be very transparent about how you’re going to use someone’s data and location, otherwise they’ll deny you access and never grant it back.”
He offers some specific examples of how not to gain the trust of consumers, “Don’t ask to use the location service until the user actually tries to location-tag something. Don’t ask for access to the camera roll until a user attempts to import a photo.”
Platform Mobility: The Next Frontier
The incumbent internet consumer companies may actually have an advantage over their mobile native rivals, the realization that not all tasks are best suited for mobile completion and they have gone through the exercise of making functional and technological changes to their interface. And they realize that even a shrinking desktop market doesn’t mean it’s going away anytime soon.
So these companies that started on the web before creating a mobile platform, are now making it easier for people to easily go between those worlds—as long as they are logged in everywhere.
“The future isn’t about mobile-only, but rather about how your app works seamlessly across all platforms,” asserts Evernote’s Hull. “We’re already seeing our users move back and forth across devices and platforms throughout the day. In an ideal world, you’d install Evernote and it would automatically appear on all of your devices, tailoring your experience based on form factor.”
Of course there are still some hurdles to be crossed before that is possible. TripAdvisor’s Medros says compatibility among devices and platforms remains an issue. Apple’s “handoff” for those users exclusively using the company’s devices is a big step, but Medros notes many people have an iPhone but a Windows PC, or an Android phone with a Mac. “As a consumer, that continuity is super valuable,” he says, “Connected devices is making more (multi-device use) more relevant and more critical to solve.”
And while some many companies are focusing on the desktop to mobile sharing dilemma, Vimeo knows its viewers want compatibility in the opposite directions—from a smartphone to a much bigger screen. “Users want to view high-quality videos on the best screen available to them, therefore TV apps are a high priority for us,” notes Vimeo’s Gillet. “In building for connected devices, it’s important to understand the medium and audience. On TVs, for example, the focus becomes more on creating engaging lists versus having users painfully type via a six-button remote.
“A continuous play experience that would let you start something on desktop, continue watching on mobile, then finish it off on your TV without having to search around and seek through videos is an important use case.”
In other words, companies know mobile-first is just a gateway to consumers, the key is providing them functionality on whatever platform they are on. “We have a lot of users who book on the web and then switch to mobile to follow the task through and confirm payment,” explains TaskRabbit’s Vars, who adds, “Multi-device compatibility is table stakes for any serious player.”
For all the latest mobile trends, check out The Open Mobile Summit 2015 on November, 9-10, San Francisco