David Low: If you’re not mobile first, you’re last

David Low heads up developer advocacy at Skyscanner
David Low heads up developer advocacy at Skyscanner
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As developer advocate at Skyscanner, I’m a strong believer in the importance of being “mobile first”.

It’s a term that’s been bandied around a lot in the past few years, and in essence it’s about ensuring that, when your customers use their various devices (smartphone, tablet, laptop), your brand or product gives them the best user experience possible.

How many times have you looked up a website on your smartphone and found it’s tricky to navigate on a smaller screen, or the features you normally use aren’t there, or are hard to find?

Being mobile first is about understanding what customers want from your product on each of those devices. For us, Skyscanner users are increasingly likely to book their travel on a tablet and mobile, so our apps and mobile web experience need to be as good (and easy to use) as our desktop website. In fact, last year we saw a 77 per cent growth in usage of our products on mobile devices.

Regardless of the size of your business, the likelihood is that your website is getting more hits from a mobile device (be that a wearable, smartphone or tablet) than a desktop PC. As such, you should be adapting to ensure that you can just as easily communicate and sell your wares on both.

If you’re a global business or one that’s aspiring to be so, in many markets mobile-first behaviour is almost the default – some are even bordering on mobile-only, such as Korea, where 74 per cent of users prefer to use the internet on a mobile device.

In many of these markets, a large proportion of new internet users are on 2G or similar connections, to the extent that internet giants such as Facebook and Google are adjusting their products to suit. Facebook Lite, a thinned-down Android app, and Google Web Light, a web optimiser, play directly into this expanding market. Without these products the giants would not reach the sort of scale they’re used to elsewhere.

Companies that simply take their web experience and replicate it on phone, even if they use accepted techniques like responsive design, aren’t quite getting that principle of context. Making a big thing smaller doesn’t cut it anymore.

Take the modern smartphone: it includes touch, geographical and movement elements. Get your product right for something like this and you can drop capabilities as you apply this back towards desktop sized experiences, because you’ve effectively distilled your product to what the user really, truly needs. It relies on only building the bits you actually needs for the product’s purpose and context.  It’s almost progressive enhancement in reverse, and something we at Skyscanner call “degrade to desktop”.

So, by mobile we could mean smartphone, wearables, tablets, a laptop – but if we dig further, being mobile first shouldn’t be limited to a device or a platform; it requires context too. This is often referred to as a “mobile mind shift” or, as detailed in the book of the same name, “the expectation that I can get what I want in my immediate context in my moment of need”. What they’re trying to explain is the “mobile moment” –  that point in time where provision and need just happen to meet, by matching together some good data points and contexts rather than pot luck.

Here’s an example from Skyscanner. If you have an Android phone, you’ll likely be aware of Google Now cards, information boxes that come up in the Google app and give you the right information at exactly the right time. This could be commute traffic before your drive to work, or, for the Skyscanner Now card, providing flight price changes when Google believes they’re most likely to be useful.

Take a moment to consider – how might you apply the “mobile moment” to your business?

In summary, mobile first is here, and here to stay – are you ready? If you’re interested in learning more on being mobile first, check out our essential reading list.

David Low heads up developer advocacy at Skyscanner