Blog Post

It’s becoming a mobile-first world

In the last day, I’ve gotten two notes from start-ups that began on the web but have seen their businesses transformed by mobile, as users increasingly shift their consumption to mobile apps and browsers. This might seem obvious in a world in which services like Twitter and Pandora (s p) now get most of their traffic from mobile. But it bears highlighting because the trend is happening across all sorts of apps and websites and that has implications for developers, publishers and businesses, who must now consider what a mobile-first world looks like.

The latest examples came to me from online design store, which just launched in June and then pushed out its first mobile apps for iOS (s aapl) and Android (s goog) in October. In just three months, it said that 30 percent of its traffic is now on mobile. MyYearbook, a social networking site that was bought by Quepasa last year, said, thanks to a big holiday push, it now has 54 percent of its traffic coming in on mobile.

Now, these are just two examples, but it shows that though they both got their start on the web, they’re increasingly running mobile services. Twitter’s mobile traffic is up to 55 percent while Pandora is up to 60 percent according to Mary Meeker, of Kleiner Perkins. That’s happening quickly with Facebook as well, which has 350 million of its 800 million users actively accessing the social network through mobile channels.

Meeker highlighted this at the Web 2.0 summit in October, showing how mobile search, payments and shopping has taken off in the last two years. Online shopping destinations like eBay (s ebay) are seeing more and more sales via mobile devices. IBM said that 18.3 percent of all online sessions on retailers’ sites on Christmas were initiated from a mobile device, compared to 8.4 percent in 2010.

Meanwhile, Google is increasingly capitalizing on the growth of mobile searches by encouraging businesses to think mobile first. It has said that 44 percent of last minute holiday shopping searches was expected to be by mobile and 79 percent of smartphone users currently utilize their phones to help with price comparison, product searches and locating a retailer.

The fact is, thanks to smartphones and tablets, the way people are going to services and destinations is changing. People are accessing stuff all the time on the go and that requires developers and publishers to think mobile first.

Om Malik touched on this last month when he talked about the redesign of his personal website Here’s what he wrote:

When mulling over these changes, I began to wonder how a blog designed primarily for a mobile-first experience might fare. Of course, there would be a web-based version, too, but it would be not the primary focus. Mobile first meant — a great reading experience that allows readers to focus on things that matter — words, photos and videos — not the design flourishes and other elements such as social sharing icons.

Mobile first meant that the layouts would adapt themselves to the display. The iPad version would adapt to that device’s screen size while the iPhone/smartphone version would be even more barebones. The beauty of thinking about “mobile first” is that you get to use the latest in browsers, forget about backward compatibility and at the sometime are able to deploy newest technologies and hacks.

This is increasingly how publishers and developers need to prepare their services. There is still an obvious need for a traditional website but the shifting habits of consumption mean you can’t make mobile an afterthought. People notice if you’re not optimizing for mobile and ignoring mobile users and their experiences can cost publishers. Google quoted a study last year that found that 61 percent of mobile users won’t return to a site if they have trouble accessing it from their phone.

It also means you can’t just water down a site or gin up a simple app. It still needs to have robust functionality because people want to do a lot of things on mobile. And they look to developers to also leverage the unique capabilities of devices, which are location aware and have cameras and other sensors. Some developers may want to think twice about how they implement some web-only features if it can’t be enjoyed by mobile users.

We’re already seeing more mobile apps and start-ups that are beginning on mobile and then looking toward online. But there’s still a ways to go for traditional websites, businesses and services to embrace mobile. With smartphone penetration expected to cross over 50 percent soon in the U.S. and adoption unlikely to slow down, it’s going to mean people going online through the small screen. Those who prepare for a mobile first world are going have the jump when it comes to attracting those consumers.

20 Responses to “It’s becoming a mobile-first world”

  1. Mark Fehrenbach

    Mobile is moving at breakneck speed. It’s like the internet when it started up, but on steroids. Very exciting for those of us who can guide businesses through the landscape.

    If you would like help, please contact me.

    President, CEO
    Fehrenbach | Design & Advertising

  2. brian c reed

    A few of the leading edge CIOs and CTOs in our customers started the pivot to ‘mobile first’ this past summer and now more and more organizations are shifting to this approach. It’s not just about getting to use the latest new technology, its about the mobile user who wants/needs info access 24×7 and about customers and partners who prefer to interact with mobile first because they need access 24×7.

  3. I think we’re moving quickly past “mobile first” to “everything first”, since it’s getting harder to define where “mobile” stops and “non-mobile” starts. The best digital solutions going forward are those that look holistically at the range of screens that consumers may wants to use, and figure out what information and services to deliver to each. This may require more attention to the back-end platforms than to the front end interfaces, at least in the beginning (more on that here:

  4. Interesting article! Our website ( spends money on Google Ads and I was surprised when they called me up personally to discuss breaking out our ad campaign between computers/tablets and mobile. Free of charge, they set everything up for us and promoted the fact that mobile browsing is exponentially increasing every day! I didn’t realize but the cost per click is about 10 cents cheaper for mobile than regular for the keywords we use on our website!

  5. This is a great article. Helps to show how important an widespread mobile is becoming for businesses. If you don’t want to lose customers to other businesses in the next year or so you have to become mobile. It helps create a better customer experience and increases exposure for your company when used the right way/when your partnered with the right company.

    • Also facebook’s –“800 million users”…REAL users are about 300 million. The rest are hit and run accounts, once off – visit once and disappear accounts, scammer profiles, sex industry profiles, fake profiles used by marketers – some have 1000 accounts (usually those accounts are of sexy women in bikinis).

  6. Vanessa Wong

    Great article. Increase use of Mobile has helped with an easier transition to online process at work. Being more accustomed to using Mobile has contributed to the success of a recent launch of SciQuest online procure-to-pay implementation at my university. Personally, if my husband who never liked to nor could proficiently use a computer,is proficient in using the iPad, what does that tell you?

  7. Jamie Turner

    What a terrific post, gang. Tons of great information to digest here. Thanks.

    Drewry News Network commented about being a late bloomer in making his/her website mobile-friendly. It’s actually very simple. You can find step-by-step instructions on this blog post entitled, “How to Build a Mobile Website.”

    Thanks for providing a ton of great information, GigaOM. As always, you guys are doing a great job.

    — Jamie Turner
    Co-Author, Go Mobile, Published by John Wiley & Sons

  8. Great article. The beauty in my opinion of the mobile world we live in is that the line between work, home, and play is pretty much gone. My wife and I both have home offices and we are more productive than we ever were in an office environment. I am totally connected anywhere at anytime. I should add one more comment. Even though I can be connected all the time I understand the balance of work and family. When the time is right I just walk away from it. Balance is a beautiful thing!

  9. philw123

    Excellent article. Mobile is where it is at, and I think in 2012 we are going to see tighter an tighter integration between mobile and social media as more desktop sites migrate and can take advantage of geo-locational features.

  10. Great article. There’s no question that mobile devices will be the primary way people will access information. One company that is making mobile apps/ mobile websites accessible is Womple []. Womple makes is easy for companies to “go mobile” and stay connected with their key audiences.

  11. Mobile is definitely the way things are moving. Probably the biggest thing I see in working with our clients is that large companies understand the need for mobile sites and mobile apps. However, our experience is that small, local businesses can gain as much, and sometimes more benefit from mobile applications. The marketing and engagement power mobile apps put in the hands of small, local businesses is outstanding and can drive higher sales, loyalty rewards, and better customer experience. Go mobile!!!