Industry experts expect the number of mobile phones on the planet with Web access will overtake the number of PCs with the same by 2013, and by 2014, the market penetration of mobile phones worldwide will be at 90 percent. The installed base of smartphones will reach 1.32 billion units by then, according to online research firm Gartner.com
The clear message: All e-retailers need to seriously consider adding a mobile-friendly version of their website to allow content to load easily on the relatively tiny screens of iPhones, Blackberries, Android phones and the like now.
Indeed, similar findings in other studies reinforce the wisdom of designing a special website, or series of special sites, for mobile device users.
A 2009 Retail Holiday Season Shopper Study, released by Motorola in January, found that 51 percent of 4,534 holiday shoppers said they used their mobile phones in various ways to close a sale. Those uses included comparison shopping as well as accessing online reviews, online product info and coupons. A full 64 percent of Generation Y shoppers used their mobile phones to help conclude a sale, and 21 percent of those used a mobile phone to compare Web prices with in-store prices.
Chiming in on the mobile Web's projected rise this year is Forrester's Thomas Husson, who predicts in his January 2010 Mobile Trends report that "companies of all shapes and sizes, as well as governments and local authorities will start integrating mobile into their overall approach, rather than simply launching a few mobile initiatives.
"Organizations will thus dedicate more staff and resources to mobile," Husson added. "Many brands will also realize that they need budgets to promote their apps, and more importantly, that they need to plan their next steps - be it upgrading their service, (or) porting the app to a different environment, such as Android."
Husson also projects that increasing numbers of e-retailers experimenting with geo-targeting - auto-sending promotional texts, coupons and other advertisements to the mobile phones of potential customers near their storefronts - will become "a key component of mobile social experiences and mobile marketing campaigns."
Granted, retooling a company's Web presence to accommodate users of a number of mobile computing devices will be a chore. But Husson believes the effort could pay off handsomely for e-retailers in the long term. "Beyond direct revenues, mobile can play a key role in satisfying your most loyal customers," he said.
Mobile Web strategies
Given the cacophony of voices all heralding the inevitable rise of the mobile Web, here are some resources for pulling together a mobile strategy:
Software that detects mobile browsers: Employing this type of software is probably one of the most efficient ways to ensure a mobile user is served a Web site fully optimized for his or her device. Essentially, these programs can detect the type of device a visitor is using to access a website, and then direct the visitor to the mobile version that is specifically designed for each technology.
One inexpensive software package is Detect Mobile Browsers, which sells for $50. The package senses and redirects visitors to versions of your website that have been fully optimized for the iPhone, Android, Opera Mini, Blackberry, Pal or Windows Mobile.
Desktop-to-mobile-Web migration software: Apps maker Covario has just released a package that helps automate the process of transforming an everyday web site into one optimized for mobile devices.
"With Covario's Mobile Content Optimizer, pages can be quickly developed using existing desktop content, configured for display on various mobile devices, and done in a highly scalable way leveraging the Software as a Service delivery methodology," explained Brian Klais, Covario's vice president of product management. "Our goal is to reduce the time it takes an advertiser to have a complete mobile Web presence to less than 30 days."
Covario's MCO software uses a proprietary template to migrate content from an existing website to a site designed for mobile users,, without the need to redesign the pages or setup separate templates internally.
Mobile Web development community: With more than 26,000 members, mobiForge.com is a great place to visit if you're looking to quickly get up to speed on the state of mobile Web development. The Starting section offers a cornucopia of educational material, books and training guides for the beginner.
Other sections of the mobiForge site are devoted to designing, developing and testing mobile websites. A Running section, for example, offers ideas on how to monetize a site once it has been mobilized. There are also some forums, and a handy directory featuring mobile Web development agencies, recommended development tools and the like.
Mobile Web books: For an in-depth look at developing for the mobile Web, check out "Mobile Web Design" by Cameron Moll. The tome offers more than 100 pages of practical advice, tips and examples, and well as more than 40 sample screens developed for various mobile devices.
Another reference-in-development is Brian Fling's "Mobile Design and Development." Fling promises the forthcoming mobile development bible will offer the principles and techniques of mobile websites and mobile apps for all devices.
"We'll discuss what makes mobile, specifically the mobile Web, one of the most unique and powerful mediums we've ever seen," Fling said. "I'll cover the essential principles for designing great experiences for the mobile medium, including how to take advantage of the mobile context, physical location, touch, acceleromerters and other means of input to create intuitive interfaces that work."
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