The growth in Web-enabled mobile phone usage is revolutionizing the way we use the Internet. Fueled by the iPhone and Android devices in the consumer market and the BlackBerry in the enterprise space, adoption is skyrocketing and the research numbers back this up convincingly. According to an eMarketer forecast, by 2014 an estimated 53.9 percent of mobile phone users in the United States will access the Internet through a mobile browser or application. This translates to about 44 percent of the total US population. In 2010 eMarketer estimated that 28 percent of the total U.S. population accessed the Internet from a mobile phone, up from 17 percent in 2008.
The proliferation in mobile Internet usage will have a profound impact on the way businesses and content providers reach their audiences on the Internet. Any organization that is serious about reaching mobile Internet users will need an engaging and efficient mobile Web presence.
A substandard mobile Internet experience has wide-ranging implications. A study by Gomez, a leading Web performance monitoring group, found that mobile Internet users who had a bad experience on a mobile website were very unlikely to return. A total of 61 percent of users said they would be less likely to visit that website again. Worse, 23 percent of respondents said they would be less likely to make a purchase from that company, while 19 percent said they would have a negative overall perception of the company. Additionally, 40 percent of users said they would visit the website of a competitor that offered a similar service. The fact is when it comes to mobile Web presence, businesses have very little margin for error, and with the pace of growth accelerating, a very narrow window of opportunity.
Problems with mobile apps
Businesses catching on to the mobile Internet revolution often equate a mobile Web presence with a mobile application (often referred to as apps). Mobile apps certainly have a place in the market but there are pros and cons to consider.
First and foremost, mobile apps are costly to build. The average cost of $25,000 to build an app will never be an issue for a Fortune 500 company but is prohibitive for a large majority of small and medium-size businesses. Keep in mind this is the estimated cost for an app built to run on a single mobile platform. Building an app for the three major mobile platforms in the market—iPhone, BlackBerry and Android—could multiply that cost substantially. Apps also need to be maintained and upgraded, which further add to the total cost of ownership.
In many ways mobile apps are a bit of overkill for the average user. And if the level of engagement with the company's product or service is not high, the end user is unlikely to consistently interact with the mobile app. In many cases it is a specific functionality or service that compels the end user to repeatedly use an app. The key point is that this is a specific and targeted audience.
Because of this fact, when it comes to providing key information about a business or some core content, the mobile app is less than ideal. What a business needs to be successful in this arena is to present content quickly and efficiently in an aesthetically pleasing and intuitive format. The mobile app is less suited to this function. Apps are designed to do something specific and don't always present the easiest user experience. Downloading an app takes time and effort and, is to a certain extent, a cumbersome process. And retention rates are generally quite low; a study by Localytics found that 26 percent of mobile apps are used just once. Similarly, Pinch Media's study in 2009 found that 30 days after downloading an app, less than 5 percent of consumers are still using it.
The answer is a mobile website
In most cases businesses don't need a mobile app. What they need is a mobile-optimized Web presence that solves the issues related to quick delivery of critical information and core functionality. A mobile website does not require downloading and setting up user names and passwords. Access is always readily available because logging on to a browser is still the most popular and direct path to content in any online venue.
A mobile-optimized website enables a business to maintain as large an addressable market as possible. An app does not just require a download and installation, but a certain level of engagement, loyalty, and familiarity with the product and service. This excludes a certain portion of the audience. A mobile website does not provide the same level of restrictions and its doors are always open.
A mobile-optimized website is also compatible across multiple platforms. Building to a specific platform is unnecessary, which translates directly into cost savings.
The reality of the mobile Internet is that apps are more of a feature enhancement consumed by end users that are familiar with a company's product or service. A mobile app is not a replacement for a mobile-optimized website that can be accessed and used by all. A poor mobile experience leads to end user frustration and abandonment with the negative ramifications this has for a company's brand. A good experience encourages repeat visitors and a positive impression. Ultimately, a business can live without a mobile app, but a properly optimized mobile website is indispensable and the foundation for any organization serious about penetrating the growing mobile Internet population.
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About the Author: Aaron Sandoval is the vice president of creative and user experience at ur mobile.