Strategizing on your mobile experience

With this year's holiday season starting stoutly with increasing numbers in sales as well as traffic, and Cyber Monday being a big hit setting a record as the heaviest spending day in U.S history while struggling to keep mobile users happy, we see great potential for publishers; marketers and developers; and anyone involved on the web to embrace the “mobile first” culture going forward. Mobile must not be an afterthought; it has to be a forethought for most business. Black Friday and Thanksgiving did not delude predictions to a healthy shopping season either so the time to learn is yesterday.

I’ve taken the time to collect a few important points for both developers/designers and business-decision-makers person. The analytics below shows how mobile and tablets have shifted how people interact with the web with some impressive numbers coming from tablet users. At the end of the presentation, the presenters suggested that Responsive Web Design (RWD) is not the silver bullet for mobile design, which in fact, is really not, it has never been. While these suggestions were valid, I felt the need to put a few things in perspective, specially with the responsive approach that they so interestingly pointed out. But, before I get into their suggestions, I’m going to share a few important data points (provided by comScore) for anyone involved with mobile development — content creators, developers, designers, business owners — to take into consideration when working on the next mobile project.

Smartphones devices

  • 34% of traffic comes from iOS devices; and most of the 56% of devices have less than 1% of the global traffic; a trend most knowingly as device fragmentation.
  • The total smartphone audience increased 36.5% YoY.
  • Back in June of 2011 2:3 phones in the US were featured phones.
  • Healthy growth of smartphone phones in the last 15 months in which smartphones have outpaced featured phones with 51% of the market, nearly 120 million users.
  • Smartphones first gained traction in 2007 with the iPhone and 3G iPhone, however, tablets started with a hyper growth mode with nearly 50 million in 9 months in the market.
  • Digital Omnivores: a fairly new term used for consumers who rely on multiple devices — phone, tablet, computer, game console — to access the web.
  • Publishers need to acknowledge that this new digital audience, omnivores, are becoming the norm. In June 2012, 35.5% of all U.S. smartphone users also owned other connected devices such as tablets, computers and gaming consoles. These devices are changing the way consumers seek information, communicate and engage online.
  • Interestingly, 1:4 (25.5%) of smartphones users own tablets, 1:8 (11.9%) of smartphones own eReaders, 4.5% own other handhelds like portable gaming devices.
  • Traffic increased significantly on connected devices since June 2011. Last year traffic coming from non-pcs devices were at 6%; June of this year (2012), data shows this number nearly doubled to 12.1% — up 81% YoY. Mobile 7.4%; Tablet 4.1%; and other 0.6%.
  • Tablet share of traffic rising dramatically to up 173% YoY.
  • We've seen some growth (YoY) on communication and news categories.
  • Top 10 smartphones categories are Personal Email (43.8%); Weather (48.6%); Search (61.6%); Social Networking Site or Blog (49.5%); Maps (52.1%); News (49.3%); Instant Messaging (43.5%), Work Email (39.9%); Sports INformation (54.3%) Entertainment News (57.7%).
  • Top 10 smartphones categories by growth are social networking check-in service, insurance services, adult entertainment services, electronic payments, online retail, classifieds, health information, credit cards, home lifestyle, men's magazines content.
  • Social networking with check-in services doubles audience size.
  • A compelling growth for online Retail sites; now accessed by more than 27 million smartphone owners. Great opportunity for retailers to improve their experiences thus maximizing sales.
  • Smartphones users are more comfortable accessing Bank Accounts (38%), Online Retail apps/sites (25%), Credit Cards app/sites (22%), Electronic Payments (21%), Deal-A-Day and Shopping Guides.
  • Nearly 48 million of smartphone users consume video on their mobile devices.

Tablet devices

  • While we’ve seen a consistently higher engagement (usage) of native app on mobile devices compared to browser, the trend seems to be the opposite with tablet devices. Browser is exponentially higher in engagement (usage) than app on tablet devices.
  • Tablet has clearly a higher reach than Smartphone devices on categories such as sports, retail, entertainment news, news, weather and search, therefore gaining more momentum in the market.
  • Audiences on Tablet devices are more content hungry consumers, more so than on mobile devices, so there’s a great opportunity for publishers and marketers to take advantage of that.
  • Given the reasonably short period that tablets have been on the market, tablets have surpassed smartphones on entertainment penetration with more than half of its users playing games, listening to music and watching video or tv.
  • Amazon tablet is primarily used to read books, magazines or periodicals; and women seems to like it more than men; with 51% ratio in adoption.
  • There’s a high spike in traffic from tablets users after 6:00 PM; more so than desktop pcs.

How about mobile-first (rwd) ?

In this press-release, they suggested that RWD should not be the silver bullet for mobile; which it’s what RWD advocates have been saying all along. I really love how Brad Frost puts it: “Mobile-first (RWD) means making mobile a priority instead of an afterthought in order to capitalize the growth and capabilities of the medium.” He denotes that mobile-first should be a forethought, not an adaptation of your desktop experience, progressively enhanced to make sure you account for archaic phones.

More importantly, you need to evaluate your goals, objectives and budget to make sure RWD fits well within your scope. In some cases, it makes sense to have a mobile dedicate app for your site (although some will argue the contrary), whereas in some it doesn’t. Let’s assume you have the budget and designing for each device meets your final goals and objectives; having a mobile-first approach (rwd) is also important given that links don’t open apps. Hyperlinks remains a very powerful element for the web (think about it for a second).

By no means I’m disagreeing with their suggestions, I just believe that RWD meaningfully has its place our workflow, be it a big e-commerce site or a small knife shop site. We’ve seen sites going responsive successfully within big news media as well as small e-commerce shops. Unless you are a well-established company, chances are you don’t have the budget to build an experience per device category so a mobile-first approach will give you a relatively strong return on your investment.


We, designers and developers, are grateful to analytics providers such as comScore, because otherwise, we would be designing in the dark putting a lot of money and effort into unknowns. Undoubtedly, Publishers and marketers have a great opportunity to increase their reach online giving meaningful utilities to mobile users to maximize sales. Here it is my conclusion based upon the data presented by comScore.

  • Reach is important; ubiquity of smartphones has created a mobile audience of scale.
  • Although iPhone has the biggest piece of the pie in traffic per device, If you want to be lucrative online you have to design beyond iOS devices. Blackberry (RIM) is still breathing healthy.
  • Get to know the market (audience) you’re designing for. If you’re designing for clients in south America (big opportunities in the horizon), make sure to account for featured phones (NetBiscuits platform seems to fit well this category) as they account for 23% of the traffic in those countries.
  • Create smart content. We’ve seen geo-content being underutilized by big players in the market. Take advantage of them, now. Develop smart CMS/CRM that enables writers/content creators to push content meaningfully to your users based on their location and online habits.
  • 27 millions users are accessing online retail sites; nearly double in numbers of last year’s access (15M); it’s a staggering growth in one year so cultivate your mobile experience for more lucrative seasons to come.

Don’t get caught up in fruitless arguments of whether you should go native or web app, study your customers, their habit and re-evaluate your business goals and objectives to determine the direction of the project. I’ve never heard of successful one-size-fits-all solution so don’t try to be the first one (of course unless you have money to burn). HTML5 is not the answer to every and all development question but as Luke Wroblewski points out in his marvellous book Mobile First: “People will find and share links (it’s the nature of the web) whether it’s through search, email, social networks, or web pages; not having a mobile web solution means anyone that follows those links on a mobile device won’t have a great experience (if they can even have access to your content at all). Having a native mobile app won’t help.”

Lastly, if you don’t enthusiastically embrace change and challenges then perhaps designing for the web may not be the best career for you. Things have drastically change in a span of 2 years, and we anticipate even more change to come ahead of us. Remember, this is the web — a dynamic medium which change is driven by people and technology; humanities and science.

Thanks for reading and feel free to leave your feedback!

Redesigning, once again.

It's been about a year since my site was updated visually with a few blog posts along the way. As you see, I've stripped out most pages and style, retaining only my blog posts. As we enter a new year, I have set a few goals for my upcoming redesigned site and what I really want it to be as we enter 2013.

The new design will reflect what I've been doing in the last few years as a web designer and what I've been experimenting with lately. This time I'm adopting the mobile-first approach coded with SASS and Compass; responsive layout and grid (no, I will not be using bootstrap); a more detailed portfolio section; exploration of touch technology for mobile devices; and an overhaul visual design. I'm also putting a lot of effort into making the site easier to update using Expression Engine and git repositories.

Among the to-do-list items for my site, writing remains intensively challenging for me to keep up with. I decided to start focusing on writing as I develop the site; something I should have done earlier this year. Previously, I put out a temporary page informing users that my site was undergoing development. This time, I'm doing something uniquely different: I'm retaining a blog with more writing as I develop the site. So, stay tuned!

I'm well aware of how plans often don't go as planned but the goal is to have the site completely redesigned by end of January.

DisclaimerIf there is ever any doubt, the views expressed here have nothing to do with those of my employer. read more

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