Mobile doesn’t just mean smaller screens
The issue of the mobile web has been just that, an issue, for years now. In fact its been an issue for so long that that even my undergraduate dissertation covered it (and that was years ago). The proliferation of smartphones means that a quick(ish), rich, meaningful and enjoyable mobile internet is available to more and more people (the less we talk about, or even remember, the bad old days of WAP the better).
When considering how to present an organisation’s offering to mobiles you need to remember that access via mobile devices doesn’t simply mean that people will be accessing your online offering via a smaller screen. It also means that they, for example, might (probably will) be accessing it via a touchscreen – does your mobile offering support this? Are you pushing lots of huge images to your mobile site or functionality that would be inaccessible or meaningless on a mobile device?
Also, it’s worth considering when and why people will be accessing your corner of the web via their mobile device, the reasons and situations in which they will be doing so probably differ from when they’d access via a laptop/desktop. A quick and easy way to see if this assumption is true is to check whatever analytics package you’re running and to see whether mobile traffic accesses the same sort of content as non-mobile traffic, my experience is that they are generally looking for and at different things, e.g. at Opera North the top 30 or so pages (by popularity) for mobile traffic are all for specific events/production page whereas for non-mobile traffic it is a much more even mix of production/event pages and also pages about the company’s work (e.g. Education/Support Us/etc).
When it comes to how your mobile offering might manifest itself you have (as far as I see it) 3 main choices: an app, a mobile-specific site (with a separate url, e.g. m.guardian.co.uk) or a responsively-designed site (same url as everything else but the design/functionality changes based on browser/screen size). I don’t really think that there is any “right” choice however you do need to be aware that each of these ways of working have their own advantages and disadvantages, e.g. an app – you can provide a completely specified experience, link in with phone-specific functionality and even monetise the app however you’ll need to develop apps for each operating system (of which there are a few, even if you’re just looking at the main players you’ve got iOS, Android and Windows to contend with) which can be very expensive.
So, as I hope it’s clear even with the brief examples I’ve provided, mobile offers a wealth of potential (you could develop something that links in with the users camera, gps, social media activity) however the sheer amount of options available to you can also scupper the best laid plans. If you don’t give proper consideration to how or why your users will be engaging with your mobile offering then inevitably you will produce something that is unfit for purpose, frustrating for users and a complete waste of money.
Mobile shouldn’t just be an afterthought, the explosion in smartphone ownership means that in the next few years mobile is set to outstrip non-mobile traffic however it doesn’t just mean smaller screens, it is a different experience altogether and should be treated as such.