Mobile First

by Luke Wroblewski November 2, 2009

More often than not, the mobile experience for a Web application or site is designed and built after the PC version is complete. Here's three reasons why Web applications should be designed for mobile first instead.

1. Mobile is exploding

Though the Web has been accessible on mobile devices for years, today's smart phones are driving huge use of networked applications and Web content. Consider that AT&T, the exclusive carrier for Apple's iPhone, has seen a 4,932% increase in mobile traffic data in the past three years. And that's just the start.

  • Heavy mobile data users are projected to triple to one billion by 2013. (source)
  • Mobile internet adoption has outpaced desktop internet adoption by eight times. (source)
  • Smartphone sales will surpass worldwide PC sales by the end of 2011 . (source)
  • Over half of Android and iPhone users spend more than 30 minutes per day using mobile applications. (source)

Building mobile first ensures companies have an experience available to this extremely fast growing user base widely considered to be the next big computing platform.

2. Mobile forces you to focus

Mobile devices require software development teams to focus on only the most important data and actions in an application. There simply isn't room in a 320 by 480 pixel screen for extraneous, unnecessary elements. You have to prioritize.

So when a team designs mobile first, the end result is an experience focused on the key tasks users want to accomplish without the extraneous detours and general interface debris that litter today's desktop-accessed Web sites. That's good user experience and good for business.

3. Mobile extends your capabilities

The World Wide Web has been built on a foundation of rather simple capabilities (page markup, styling, and scripting) determined by what Web browsers can support. Web application developers -desperate to add innovative capabilities to this environment- have pushed the limits of JavaScript, browser plug-ins, and even Web browsers themselves to enable rich activities and interactions online.

But new mobile application platforms are introducing exciting capabilities that leave many PC-based Web browsers behind. Consider some of the capabilities offered to developers on Apple’s iPhone or Google’s Android platforms: precise location information from GPS; user orientation from a digital compass; multi-touch input from one or more simultaneous gestures; device positioning from an accelerometer; and many more.

Building mobile first allows teams to utilize this full palette of capabilities to create rich context-aware applications instead of limiting themselves to an increasingly dated set of capabilities.