August 20, 2012

Content is king: Still true in the mobile era?


Image by iqoncept on BigStockPhoto

Why native apps are vital to the Internet’s future in the mobile era

Guest post by Gal Brill
CEO, UppSite

Content is king, but in the mobile era, it will only remain king if it is optimized for mobile devices.

Bill Gates was the first to coin the phrase “content is king,” and ever since he coined it in 1996, content creators, website owners, journalists and pundits of the digital era have recited it, dissected it, argued about it or agreed on it.

In 2007 Apple completely changed the way we consume content and digital media. That year, Steve Jobs introduced the first smartphone to the world, the iPhone, and a new era was born.

The mobile era, ushered in by the iPhone and the iPad, significantly changed the amount of content, its timing and of course the method in which we consume it – the iPhone 2G, Android and Windows-based phones gave birth to millions of mobile apps and the app store empowered us to install them on those little supercomputers in the palm of our hand.

One of the aspects that was left behind in this mobile era is the Internet itself. The Internet that heralded the dawn of the information revolution and the digital age has been largely neglected in the age of mobile. And when you really think about it, there is no surprise here at all.

How could this happen? The Internet is a competitive ring in which every content creator can create a website within minutes and write whatever is on his or her mind. For end users, the Internet delivers a lot of content for a low price — lower than cable TV, for instance — but content creators are faced with revenue streams that are limited when compared to those of their broadcast counterparts.

The result is that those content creators cannot afford the “holy grail” of the mobile era – a native application.

What is a proper mobile presence, anyway?

In the age of the Internet, content submission is relatively easy, fast and cheap. Take for example the most popular content management system (CMS) in the world today, WordPress. WordPress runs about 16.7 percent of the world’s top 1 million websites, is free and has quick and easy design options. The 5-minute website setup is one of the reasons the WordPress platform is so popular.

80% of the top 100 content websites don’t have a native application or a presence optimized for mobile

What is happening in the mobile era? Search engines and social networking platforms continue to be the driving force behind content discovery channels exactly as they are on the desktop version of the Internet. They have adapted to the mobile revolution and become available on any new platform. This is something that unfortunately you cannot say on most content websites.

We have conducted a study of the leading 100 content websites and discovered that 80 percent of them don’t have a native application or proper mobile presence. When we conducted the same study for 1,000 different websites, the number grew to a bit over 87 percent.

To be clear, let’s talk a bit about what a “proper mobile presence” actually is.

It is true that every mobile device we purchase has a built in mobile browser. It has been this way since the days of the original iPhone, with every Android device and as of late, every self-respecting browser has a mobile version. With those mobile browsers, you can access any website because they “speak” HTML, the language in which the internet is written. Some do it better and faster than others, but they all do it well.

So is the mobile browser in fact the solution for mobile content?  Maybe not.

A quality mobile presence cannot be a Web page displayed as it was originally built for a computer screen. A mobile device’s screen does not allow optimal viewing for pages 1024 pixels wide. An iPhone can display 320 to 640 pixels in width and has a 3.5-inch screen – rather tiny compared to a standard computer screen at 21 inches or so. All these numbers basically tell us that the content displayed is way too small for consumption and is laid out in an uncomfortable way on mobile  screens. Just remember all the times you had to “pinch-zoom” to read content.

So, what is a proper mobile presence?

Web apps vs. native apps

There are two basic terms you need to know before I can answer this question:

Web app – changing the layout of the information (still in HTML) in a way that is more suited for a mobile screen. The new layout can be attributed to a dedicated design template, or (if we didn’t throw around enough buzz-words so far) to a “responsive design” that takes into account the width of the screen on which it is presented and rearranges the elements in the layout to fit the screen.

To be fair, Steve Jobs said: “You don’t need apps, make Web apps.” After saying that, he realized that making apps is not where the tech world was going, and he created the App Store and billions of downloads have confirmed that this move was the right way to go.

Native app – a dedicated app written in the original programming language of the mobile platform. This process creates the best results possible for an app.

There is a lively discussion on what is the best approach to adapt the Internet into the mobile world: Web app (because it is probably enough and it is after all the language of the Internet) or native apps (because of their strength and speed).

So what is the right answer? The truth is very simple – both Web apps and native apps are OK. The content consumption process isn’t going to change soon and search engines and social networking will continue to lead us to content discovery. However, in the mobile era the chain usually breaks. The user reaches a website that isn’t optimal for mobile devices. With that in mind, here is the ideal content consumption process:

Search or social networks -> Web app -> native app -> revisiting content through information pushing.

After we found the content, we are now random consumers. We don’t install an app but rather expect an optimal view of it on our mobile device. The ability to consume quality content will keep us going back for more, and only after consuming content in this method will we demand more from our content providers. Therefore, we will be ready to install a native app from that content creator, and enjoy the information push that only native apps can provide, along with more features.

This process is the future of the internet in the mobile era, and you can achieve this only by pre-meditating a holistic solution that provides all of these elements. It is commonly thought that the cost of this solution is expensive and time consuming, and is only available for big websites. This process of thought will soon change, with services like my company UppSite that are pushing the Internet into the mobile era for  a low cost (sometimes for free) with a high quality product.

Content is important, and how it is presented is also important, in the mobile era. So it’s vital for the content creators to take back the reins and give their mobile users, who are growing in numbers every day, the best consumption experience possible.

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