In the UK, nearly half of the population uses a smartphone – that’s 60 percent of all mobile phone users – according to data from eMarketer. In the US, two-thirds of mobile users access the internet on their phones, according to a recent Pew poll, and mobile has nearly doubled the amount of time spent online. Across large parts of Africa and South Asia, the mobile phone is the only way that many people access the internet, according to research from browser maker Opera.
Research in the US from comScore and Jumptap showed that while mobile has doubled time spent online, in the sport and general news categories, 62 percent of time is still on desktop or laptop computers with 31 percent on tablet and only 7 percent on mobile. Josh Benton at Nieman Lab said:
The high desktop/laptop number makes sense — an awful lot of online news is consumed by deskbound office workers — but the tablet share has to be disappointing to all the news execs who bet the iPad would revive their business models.
This is why some news leaders, such as Digital First Media’s Steve Buttry, have long been arguing for a mobile first strategy. In 2009, Buttry said:
News organizations are belatedly, reluctantly and often awkwardly pursuing “web-first” strategies. As we fight these web battles, I am increasingly coming to believe that “web first” is what the military would call fighting the last war. News organizations need a mobile-first strategy.
The digital world never stops moving, and Steve, who I count as a friend, is right. We need to keep pace with the rapid shift in consumer preference.
IJNet has a great overview of a talk that NPR news app editor Brian Boyer gave about ‘mobile first’ at a recent Hacks/Hackers events in Buenos Aires.
Since the iPhone, people expect the internet to just work on their mobile devices, and Boyer believes that it is his job to make sure that their apps work for their audience. That makes sense, but catering to mobile users isn’t just about user experience, although that it is important.
Mobile first is more than making sure your content fits the smaller screen of a smartphone, but just as importantly, the strategy is more than being mobile, being on the move. As Jessica Weiss pointed out in IJNet:
According to Business Insider, 77 percent of people in the U.S. use mobile phones while lying in bed, 70 percent while watching TV, 65 percent while waiting and 41 percent in the bathroom.
Boyer said that mobile news is about filling the “cracks in the day”, the “in between moments” people have. That might be “before they go to work, while they are commuting or ‘in bed after children are asleep”.
A number of sites are now seeing an evening mini-spike in traffic as people take their tablets to bed. How are we serving those consumers? How many news organisations are developing evening tablet editions for these consumers? Would this be an attractive edition that would add subscribers to a bundled print-digital paid content strategy? How can news organisations use mobile notifications more effectively? There is a lot of opportunity here, and news organisations need to be prepared to move quickly with this rapidly changing market.