Clarity And Convenience: That's It, I'm Moving To Mobile
I am in campaign mode this week, so pardon me if you've heard this from me before. I find myself moving ever more shares of my digital life to mobile platforms now, largely because the experience simply is better here.
We spent so many years in this industry discussing how to "strip down" the Web for handsets, how to "mobilize" content by chopping it into "snacks," how to make mobile a "complementary" extension of Web and analogue media, we missed how effective the platform can be as a better content consumption device. We sold the Web for its infinitude. The pit was bottomless here -- the content endless, the choices, infinite.
And that is the problem. Mobile should not be seen as "Web lite." Instead, it should sell to its real strengths: context and convenience, but most of all, clarity amid the clutter.
I have sung this refrain before, I know, but finally I am seeing some support out there for the notion that mobile will replace, not just extend, some Web or PC activity. Rumor has it that Chris Anderson and his Wired magazine are contemplating a "The Web is Dead" cover story that argues for a future in apps. Mary Meeker, of course, added momentum late last year with her pronouncement that mobile would be the next great computing platform. And most projections show more Web access coming from mobile devices in the coming years. But the fact of the matter is, there are at least four or five things that are better experiences on mobile now than they are on other digital platforms.
Facebook: Not only are the Facebook apps on iPhone and Android less cluttered than the Web version, but they are clearer and easier to use. I admit to being FB-averse, still not knowing half the nomenclature I see on the Web site. For me, the mobile app focuses in on the core functions. I need to make sure my daughter isn't getting herself in any trouble somewhere as she posts. When my phone is on my desktop next to the Web browser, I will now check FB on mobile rather than go to the Web site. The design discipline that mobile puts on publishers is divine. And when it comes to social networking, the actual activity of posting short notes about oneself to friends simply maps better to a phone than to the Web.
Games: I haven't played a game on my PC or laptop or even my TV game consoles in months. Why bother? For casual games there are very few experiences that are any better on a PC than on a smartphone. As I mentioned in my last column, the touch interface is basically more involving than the layer of abstraction the mouse and touchpad or handheld controller introduce. Most PopCap games I love like Bookwork or Bejeweled are more fun on a smart phone. Helsing's Fire and Angry Birds are uniquely engaging on a touch screen. And for more complex titles, the DS is far preferable to me than a console. I have clocked in many more hours of the inspired Picross 3D and Dragons Quest IX on my handheld than Red Dead Redemption on the PS3, even though the latter is brilliant. Handheld devices and the games they inspire simply are easier to slip in and out of than on console or PC play.
Video: On the iPad especially but also even on a solid smartphone, I think video viewing is less cumbersome off the desktop. Video player software on the PC is too busy, and the ad formats often force the viewer to "learn" how to interact with ads with each video. On the whole, full-screen video on mobile devices feels more immersive. I am surprising myself with how long I will spend with full episodes of content in Hulu Plus on my iPhone, and the iPad versions of Netflix, video podcasts and Hulu Plus are now with me on the Stairmaster every day. I deliberately offload Web video to these devices simply because the viewing experience is more convenient and immersive.
Weather, Movie, Blog Look-Ups: Again, the absence of clutter and focus on the information I most need drive me to the mobile alternatives in each category. Almost all of these categories have become content and marketing bazaars on the Web. The reflex to merchandise with every pixel has so degraded the Web experience, I now use the weather apps instead of their respective Web sites and find the geo-location power of the phone a better shortcut to contextually relevant weather than navigating a site. For a number of blogs now, the sites have become messes; the mobile Web site version or app version enforces a simple order and uniformity that makes triaging headlines much more efficient. Again, with a smartphone on my desk with the browser window open, I now default to the handheld for most of these tasks.
And so it will go, I think. The Web is not dead, and of course most of these mobile activities are still drawing from Web data and speaking in IP. But I believe now more than ever that mobile platforms will (or should) force Web publishers to rethink their own site strategies. We started the cellular data revolution asking how to "mobilize" the Web and bring the Web experience to the handset. I think eventually the question will flip. We will be asking how to make the Web more like mobile: focused, personal, contextually aware, design-optimized for content consumption, and, yes, more immersive.