Why mobile only strategies don't work for all countries and product categories

The mobile experience is the primary customer experience, and so, deserves its own dedicated approach that might include its own features, design, and UX components. This is the thinking behind the mobile only strategy, which was one of the earliest in the grab bag of strategies for transitioning to mobile back in 2014.

The mobile only strategy is a sensible approach in light of world markets and growing smartphone usage especially in developing countries that were previously unreachable. There is no question that the power of mobile is only growing and that crafting a seamless mobile customer experience will be (if it isn’t already) vital to most products and businesses across all sectors. Taking the mobile only approach ideally ensures that your company exerts the necessary amount of attention and resources on its mobile experience and protects against mobile implementation projects getting put on the back burner.

But mobile only is not the golden bullet to mobile markets, and has mostly fallen short of remaining a relevant strategy in current trends. In fact, its overly fragmented and simplistic understanding of mobile are quickly becoming outdated as mobile technology progresses and new realizations are made about the nature of users mobile expectations. So where does the mobile only approach fall short in light of the most recent mobile developments? Consider these points.

Does mobile include phablet?

The mobile only approach was a great push towards a focus on mobile for large companies in 2014. But even since then a lot has changed. There are more mobile devices of different screen sizes in use today than ever before, and going the mobile only route requires drawing an arbitrary line distinguishing between mobile and desktop. This difference is widely unnecessary and leads to duplicated work and wasted time.

Instead of focusing on mobile or desktop, clearer thinking focuses on content, accessible at any level on any device. Paul Adams states:

For years I’ve pushed the idea that “mobile” is not about devices, it’s about access to consuming and publishing information.

For this reason, mobile only is not a realistic or helpful strategy for startups or small to midsize businesses, who would be better off looking into options like responsive web development.

Separation Issues

Creating separated mobile content as opposed to responsive content requires a lot of resources. In fact, some of the only companies to successfully use the mobile only approach were very large, like the Economist newspaper, Facebook, and Google, and in every case the purpose of the mobile only implementation was to provide additional and substantially different functionality to existing customers. This actually, is one of the only instances in which you could argue in favor of a mobile only approach. For new customer creation, product development, or as the only mobile face of your company however, mobile only is too expensive and resource hungry to be realistic.

Isolation means fragmentation

The whole idea of mobile only revolves around a mobile presentation that is all its own, with its own dedicated resources, UX, and even overall design. This strategy inherently isolates the mobile components of a website or software. In theory this is fine, because designs and important branding aspects would be carefully carried over from existing resources to the dedicated mobile version, but in practice this is often a messy process. Different teams trying to reach consensus on what aspects of a company’s branding or desktop online experience should or should not be integrated with the mobile leads to a fragmented company or product image, and can lead to user confusion and less customer follow through. The isolation becomes a barrier to a seamless user experience, which makes it a bad idea for companies or brands that are looking for continuity across all platforms.

Mobile only thinking was created in preparation for a mobile only world, and overcame many boundaries to implementing a mobile strategy in its time. It was the answer to getting existing companies to finally make the jump to their first mobile presence. But but trends have actually not moved towards mobile only, but convenience only. Even mobile businesses like Uber, Instagram, and WhatsApp have recently opted to create desktop friendly versions of their apps, because it is convenient for users. The mobile only approach does not offer the flexibility necessary to current demands, and in most every situation there will be better options available for mobile development. In the end however, finding the best mobile accessibility strategy for any company, population, or product must be based on an intuitive understanding of your users mobile expectations.

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