Return of the Grinch: The Mobile Naughty List
Now that I have gotten the niceness out of my system, we can turn to more serious and somber matters –-- like what still sucks about mobile media and marketing. Oh, don’t give me all that crap about “early days” and it will get better. We are over a decade and a half into the Web revolution and most ads here remain terrible. I find myself ticking off another year (about eight now) covering the mobile business, still waiting for some things to change.
Social Media Nomenclature: I admit that I am 53, far outside the target demo for social media. But I find Facebook both online, and now in apps, thoroughly unintuitive. Snazzy as the new Facebook apps may be, they actually make the experience more like the Web site, which made me run for the apps initially. I used to have my daughter easily bookmarked (I know they used a different term for this) in the app, but now I have to search for her every time I log in. The terms in social media for different kinds of functions and elements leave me stymied. And they pile on new items like the Timeline as if that is a good thing. I am still figuring out the first five years of this company’s output.
Really, Really Boring Mobile Ad Units: Sometimes I wish for whack-a-mole animated GIF banners to make a comeback. For all of the talk about money and brands pouring into mobile advertising, much of this ecosystem remains devoted to “download this.” We were selling ringtones to one another five years ago on this platform. God bless Google localized ads for bringing contextually aware networked advertising into so many apps, but generally the units themselves are boring and undermine the look of the app. In general we are at a stage where many publishers have some gorgeously designed mobile sites and apps that suffer direct marketing and spray and pray banner campaigns that are ruined when unfocused, poorly coordinated banners pop from the bottom of the frame. Welcome to 1999.
The Retail Dead Zone: If you are a retailer in any way serious about capturing shoppers with your or a partners’ app and you don’t have free in-store WiFi, you are certifiably loony. I have been ranting about this for more than a year and a handful of stores understand that their cavernous buildings are shielding signals. This is a big problem. Next time one of these metrics companies decides to poll consumers on their accelerated use of mobile for shopping, please, please ask how many of them have had bad experiences trying to access information in-store because of bad reception.
Cap That Damned Video: I think it is wonderful that mobile video really is getting traction. I am sure we will see an explosion of use in 2012, fueled especially by tablets. But video ad networks need a better frequency cap and publishers have to start enforcing real spot length rules. Ratcheting through one-minute clips should not require my sitting through the same damned pre-roll. As publishers migrate more of their Web video to tablets, I think it is a mistake to think that iPad users will appreciate the same 30-second pre-rolls you get away with on the Web. The only reason people even bother 20- and 30-second pre-rolls on a 120-second news clip is that on the desktop they can mouse away for a short email grab or other distraction. They can’t do that on a device.
Android Stubble: I don’t know what it is about the Android OS, but no matter how much it is iterated, the experience always feels just a little more halting and jagged than iOS and even WebOS. I have gone through the DROID 1 and 2, been handed countless phones and played with a range of Android tablets. There still is just enough of a lag in the touch interface to make this user feel disconnected from the device. A former Google intern started an online brawl over this recently when he claimed the lag problem for Android was a known issue Google struggles with. Others piled on and refuted his explanations. Fine. Android still feels too much like an engineering project for me to buy in.
Tapaholism: Just because the kinetic interface lets users tap doesn’t mean they want to, every second. Touch does induce engagement in fascinating ways, but developers have veered into overkill. Digital magazines and other content should indeed take game dynamics seriously as a way to enhance the content consumption experience. That is different from turning a digital magazine into a game itself.
Privacy Last: The actual legal, regulatory, political status of digital privacy is beside the point. Brands and media have an opportunity on mobile to become companions with users, and that includes having clear policies that the provider makes a point of explaining to their user.
Kindle Afire: Sorry, fans, I think Amazon could have, should have done better with this. Yes they will sell millions because in the end there is no getting beyond the basic value prop: it is a lot of hardware and functionality at this price. But it is too heavy to hold with the same casual thoughtlessness as an e-reader but without the scale that makes the weightier iPad worthwhile. The external control it does have (power) is insanely placed, and the ones it needs (volume) are absent. Performance is not what it should be, given the horsepower and screen size. The Home page of recently viewed items should have been tossed out by an early focus group. Off-angle viewing is challenging. And the limited customizability and persistent merchandising in the entire device makes it feel more like a loaner than something I own. This one has “wait for version 2.0” written all over it, but a lot of this stuff should have been obvious to designers three or more years into the touch-driven device revolution.
I will reserve the lump of coal for Amazon until after the holiday, however. More than half of my Christmas and Hanukkah gifts are still coursing through the courier systems and I wouldn’t want anything to get in their way. Some things they do exceptionally well.
Happy holidays, Mr. Bezos.