Technology: Jamie Riddell on why harnessing the mobile internet is crucial for business

MOBILE devices are like buses; you wait ages for a new one to come along then three arrive at the same time.

In the first week of September we have seen four new mobile announcements with another huge announcement, from Apple, coming next week. So far HTC, Nokia and Samsung have announced new handsets powered, respectively by Google’s Android and two with Windows Phone 8. Amazon has announced the UK launch of its Kindle Fire device in the UK.

The fact that mobile launches have become global news is testament to the importance of mobile in our daily lives. This importance therefore has a resultant impact on our businesses.

Last year the sale of smartphones outstripped the sale of PCs, two years earlier than expected. 29% of UK Internet use is through a mobile device and the number of smartphone searches doubles every two months. Online auction giant eBay sells something via a mobile device every two seconds.

You will note I called them ‘mobile devices’ not ‘mobile phones’ – this too is important, as a mobile device is so much more than a smartphone. The iPad, currently Apple’s best selling product is not a phone but an ‘internet connected device that allows you to browse the web, use apps and enjoy films and media away from the desktop’. Amazon’s Kindle Fire is not a phone either.

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In all these announcements, very little is made of the voice calling capabilities instead focusing on the additional technology such as high spec cameras and how each device will fit into your ‘ecosystem’ from seamless connections with Outlook (Windows Phone 8) to Gmail and Google search (Android). Apple will be focusing on the consumption of media through iTunes and just how good it looks to display content.

All these devices have a common thread. They are important points for Internet access, through the browser or through Internet connected apps. A recent report from the BBC identified 30 million requests in July alone, for their iPlayer content.

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In combination with increased mobile device use comes the increased availability of public Wi-Fi. During the Olympics, London visitors have been able to access free Wi-Fi hotspots across London with Skype, on the tube with Virgin Media and at the Olympic park itself. The reliance on ‘mobile internet’ is decreasing as fast, wireless Internet access starts to become more available.

All this points to mobile Internet as an important consideration for your business. From screen size to content type, how your business translates to a mobile audience will become a very important element to success.

Viewing mobile content on a mobile device reduces the screen size considerably. Consumers accessing a ‘traditional’ web page on a mobile device may struggle to see your offer if they have to scroll around. Technology like Flash, which was used to display animation, video and interactive content will not display on an Apple device. So, if you have a flash website or elements on flash on a page, expect your mobile users not to see it. And what about purchases? Would you feel comfortable getting out your wallet in the street or on the train, typing in the numbers, the code and verification requests? These factors will all impact the success or otherwise of your business with mobile customers.

The rise of apps has been an important way in which businesses can engage more easily with their audience, on mobile devices. Creating an app allows businesses to deliver the key elements of proposition or service to their customers without rebuilding the site. Companies like the FT are creating apps that are simply focused versions of the existing site.

Web design standards are moving on. A responsive site design means one that scales up and down depending on the screen size whilst programming language HTML 5 can deliver the engaging content to a mobile audience removing the need for Flash.

Do you know how many mobile visitors have been to your site? Most basic web analytics packages like Google Analytics will tell you how many mobile users have visited, from what devices and what actions they took. A quick check might show how your site is being consumed, which could make interesting reading.

The growth of mobile, Internet connected devices is only set to grow. The Amazon announcement could see the launch of a new Kindle Fire, which has captured a price sensitive market between the iPhone and iPad.

Then there’s the anticipated iPhone 5 and maybe we will see the launch of an iPad mini, ushering in a cut-price iPad that will further fuel mobile growth.

Mobile Internet consumption will continue to grow with tablet sales expected to outstrip PC sales within three years. Companies that harness mobile now will be in the best position for this coming growth.

Not convinced? Consider this last point.

Facebook, the world’s largest social network has seen its share price drop by 50% with little sign of it recovering soon. One of the biggest reasons for the low share price is mobile. A large proportion of Facebook’s audience are accessing from mobile devices. But Facebook has yet to work out how to monetize this audience. Ads, which form a key part of Facebook’s revenue, do not appear on a mobile device. The lack of mobile success could be the undoing of the social giant.

: : Jamie Riddell is an expert in digital trends and a director of Suffolk-based V4 Technical, a leading developer of websites and mobile apps.

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