Should I mobile optimise my website?

Google are really pushing mobile these days (no surprise as Android’s at least the third most popular mobile platform, based on the numbers across all my clients’ Google Analytics accounts, behind iPad and iPhone). So much so that they’ve teamed up with a third party to mobile-optimise your website. But do you need to?

Local business? Stop reading now and go make your site mobile friendly

If you’re a local business, one that people actually look up on their phone when they’re on their way to or want to call to make a reservation or check the menu/price list (I’m looking at you Flash-obsessed restaurant websites) then you absolutely need to have a mobile optimised website, regardless of the percentage of your visitors who are on mobile because they are the hottest prospects you’ve got – they’re headed your way and they just want help finding you.

For everyone else: it depends

Overestimating Mobile

The new interface of Google Analytics has a prominent new option – MOBILE – in the Audience section. There’s just one problem. The iPad, and myriad other copycat tablets, are all included in mobile. They might run ‘mobile’ operating systems but they’re not really that mobile. Most people use them at home, on the couch. Most websites, as long as they don’t make exclusive use of Flash or really bad javascript, will work fine on them and forcing a ‘mobile experience’ that’s optimised for a phone screen is often worse than serving up the full website. Why does this matter? Because when Google include tablets in the numbers for mobile, you’re getting incorrect info. The ‘tablets’ proportion of those mobile visits, across tens of thousands of visits across several of my clients, averages around 60%. That’s how much ‘mobile’ is being overstated by. Beware of numbers touting the huge increases in people ‘shopping on mobile’ – the majority are shopping on tablets, not phones, and as long as the desktop site works fine (no Flash, no rollover-dependent interface elements) there’s no pressing need to change.

So I can just sit tight?

Well no. You need to keep a close eye on the ‘real mobile’ segment and make sure that you’re not serving up an inaccessible website to any devices; phone, tablet or regular computer. Mobile, as a percentage of your audience, is creeping up, whoever you are. If you’ve got an ecommerce site, bear in mind that even if people don’t place orders via a web browser on their phone, they’re checking your prices. You owe it to all your users to serve up appropriate, optimised pages.

Image credit: Original image by Riggzy used under a Creative Commons Remix Licence

Five Useful Free iPhone apps for Local Business Marketers

iPhone in handThe iPhone is a handy little business too for business local marketing, here are just a few apps, all free, that can help you create content, spy on your competition and keep up with what your customers are saying about you.

Share 360 degree views with Photosynth

Creating 360 degree interactive panoramas used to cost lots of money and take lots of time. The only places you’d see them would be fancy hotel and real estate websites. Armed with just an iPhone 4 and a copy of Microsoft’s (yes, I was surprised too!) free Photosynth app, and a Windows Live account (Hotmail, live.com etc) you can shoot, upload and embed on your own website a very neat 360 panorama. The embedding part requires you to log in to Photosynth.net with your Windows Live account to get the embed code. Any business that has a physical location they want to show off has no excuse now!

Keep your finger on the pulse with Twitter

For instantly updating your Twitter stream, posting news and specials, keeping up with what your followers are doing, or checking up on your saved searches. Make sure to turn on notifications for mentions and replies to maintain a decent response time to enquiries too.

Spy on the competition with Foursquare

Foursquare might not have hit the mainstream in terms of user numbers, but those that do use it are very much the vocal minority. As a business owner you should claim your listing, make sure your business is correctly classified and run specials anyway as the app draws attention to anywhere offering a special. So why would you want to use the iPhone app itself, when you really shouldn’t be checking in to your own location? A few reasons:

1. Keeping track of any new comments by Foursquare users (especially complaints!) at your own business but also your competitors.
2. Finding out who your (Foursquare using) regulars are, and maybe following/friending them
3. Keeping tabs on any specials your competitors are offering
4. Seeing where’s hot nearby right now (places with lots of people checking in)
5. Posting photos of your location – you can upload photos directly from the iPhone app, and places with photos get more attention

Update your Facebook page on the go

Whilst the Facebook app doesn’t make it easy to update your Facebook Page status on the go (a menu item for ‘Your Pages’ would be nice!) all you need to do is search for your Page then when you’ve found it, add it to Favorites, then it will appear on the second page of your Facebook app’s menu. Once there, getting into it is simple. Anything you post via the Facebook app will get attributed to the Page, not your personal account.

Create video slideshows with Animoto

With the Animoto app and a free Animoto account you can create 30 second videos by picking photos from your iPhone Photo Library, choosing a soundtrack from Animoto’s categorised collections then share that video on Facebook, Twitter, by email and more. Paid accounts are available that lift the time restriction and for a per video fee you can create higher resolution versions. Creating a video slideshow like this is a fun thing to do when you have a special event. You can get something up on Facebook within minutes.

 

image credit: John Karakatsanis via Creative Commons on Flickr.

iPhone 4 Ubiquity

With the release of iPhone 4, the UK joins the Czech Republic and Australia on the list of countries where all mobile networks (and Tesco, an MVNO) offer the iPhone. Apple have even just started selling the iPhone unlocked with no contract.
In the US AT&T still have a monopoly on the iPhone for the time being. Until the iPhone hardware is changed to include the necessary support for Verizon, Sprint or T-Mobile (T-Mobile’s 3G is on a different band, not included in the 5 supported by the iPhone), that will continue to be the case.
What does the ubiquity of availability and support for the iPhone mean for Apple in the UK? It means that no longer is someone put off having an iPhone because it’s not available on their carrier. It means that the network load of the iPhone is no longer concentrated on one network – everyone’s experience will be better. In short, more iPhones will be sold. The unlocked iPhone also means those who don’t want to be tied to a particular carrier can just splash out the full, unsubsidised price for the iPhone (£499 16Gb/£599 32GB). Many carriers are offering SIM only deals for the iPhone now that allow a buyer to have the freedom to leave within 30 days.
I predict the next month or so will see an explosion in iPhone penetration in the UK (just like we had in the Czech Republic from the day the iPhone 3G went on sale with all 3 networks). This will be proof positive, should Apple have ever needed it, that AT&T is their biggest enemy right now in their fight against Android and breaking that exclusivity is the most important thing they can do to halt the growth of Android.
The lesson for brand marketers? Make sure that your distribution network isn’t harming your growth.
Image credit: principia aesthetica via Creative Commons on Flickr.

iLike Ads

I like ads. Always have done. Good ones that is. As a teenager my walls were decorated with framed mini-proofs of poster campaigns that my dad worked on. There are some very effective TV and cinema campaigns that I enjoy watching, where each ad is part of a serial and I look forward to the next execution.

Are there any web ads I’d place in the same category? Web ads I’d mention to a friend ‘hey have you seen the latest Acme Widgets banner?’ Um, nope. Mostly they annoy the hell out of me, they make noises or enlarge, unbidden when I mouse over them, (hey. Wired, I’m looking at you) and worst of all are designed to hijack my attention and take me away from the content I want to read.

But the iAds that are demoed in this Stevenote (skip to 45 mins in unless you want to learn about the new features in iPhone OS 4.0), now they looked like the kind of advertising I wouldn’t mind on my phone.

Essentially they’re small ads when when clicked open in a layer over the app you were in. Then what you have could be described as a mini-app within the app, or a micro-site (depends on what paradigm you’re familiar with). Except unlike a standard micro-site there appears to be the ability to interact with the iPhone on a relatively meaningful level – like setting the wallpaper on your iPhone. I can only guess at the other possibilities.

The demo ads that Apple created for this presentation (for Pixar, Nike and Target) really showed the potential of the platform. In fact I’d say there’s a shortcut button missing alongside the little ‘x’ to close the ad – a ‘save & share’ that puts the ad into a Favorite iAds app on the iPhone, or sends a link to a friend.

It’s not all roses however as this Marketing Vox piece takes great pains to point out though some of the criticisms levelled there are somewhat churlish: ‘iAds will be hard to build’. Yeah? Hard like a TV ad? Hard like a micro-site for the desktop web? Yes it’s harder than a crappy text ad that you could create in seconds with Google Adwords or Yahoo Search Ads. Good, because I don’t like those ads, you want other reasons why they’re lowest-common-denominator bad? Check out the demographics of who’s clicking on those ads. If iAd raises the bar on ad quality, I’ll be happy, because it’s pretty low right now.

Of Prams, Toys and Throwing Stuff Out

Sorry for straying off-topic. If you’ve no interest in the iPhone, or Flash, skip this post.

Adobe’s ‘Flash evangelist’ Lee Brimelow isn’t happy with Apple:

Now let me put aside my role as an official representative of Adobe for a moment as Speaking purely for myself, I would look to make it clear what is going through my mind at the moment. Go screw yourself Apple.

His beef is with Apple’s proposed change of terms in the iPhone OS 4.0 SDK agreement that state that you can’t use third-party frameworks. However I can see their reasons:

1) Developers are likely to miss many of the APIs that make the iPhone experience stand head and shoulders above earlier versions of the OS (and, for that matter, other smartphone platforms). Moreover, if any framework becomes overwhelmingly popular, Apple will lose the ability to rapidly update functionality independently of the third-party’s agenda.

2) Existing apps produced using the Flash iPhone Packager, those that have somehow managed to get approved and are available on the App Store, get resoundingly bad reviews (usually citing poor performance).

3) Adobe are using a back-door method here, one that they didn’t clear with Apple before they started trumpeting it as a tent pole feature of Flash CS5. I’ve seen comments online to the effect that Apple should have said something to Adobe when they made their announcement. But why should Company A react to a pre-release feature in Company B’s software? If you have a tent pole feature it’s manifestly your responsibility to make sure you’re not sticking it into quicksand. You don’t assume there’ll be signs up in someone’s garden saying, ‘No camping’, you ask permission first; it’s only polite.

The developers that Apple are supposedly slighting here are Flash developers, not iPhone developers; nothing is being taken away from them. There are plenty of apps already without opening the floodgates to countless self-indulgent conceptions from mewling, crayon-wielding anklebiters.

Flash on the web is finally being beaten back by a machete-against-weeds combination of common sense design and user-installed Flash blockers (like the excellent Click to Flash for Safari or Flashblock for Firefox).

Don’t get me wrong, Flash has a place. Its ubiquity on the desktop is useful and there are still some things that are best delivered in Flash. But the number of times I come across sites with needless Flash elements just because the designer doesn’t know how to use a free javascript library is enormously frustrating. I suppose Flash files do cost more to update (and few will give up their source files) so I can see the attraction for some designers in the guarantee of future work.

This isn’t about how much I think Flash sucks, this is about a company exerting their right to care for the platform they created. If users have bad experiences with a large number of apps (and the Flash Packager would result in a tidal wave of submissions to the App Store) they won’t simply blame the app; they’ll blame the device.

If you’ve not had enough anti-Flash invective, hop over here and see how someone who isn’t an Apple aficionado feels about it.

Image credit: babydinosaur via Creative Commons on Flickr

From free to paid

Air VideoSomething flagged up an iPhone app to me this week called Air Video.

Here’s what Air Video does for me: it lets me stream videos stored in designated folders on my Mac (there’s also a PC version of Air Video Server) over wifi to my iPhone. Sounds simple? I guess it is, because it does exactly what it’s supposed to – but what it’s doing ‘in the background’ is converting on the fly the video file I want from a format that won’t play on the iPhone to one optimised specifically for the iPhone.

They provide a free version of the app that is limited in terms of how many files in a folder it will show when you’re connecting to your computer’s Air Video Server – it shows three files. The things that made me buy was that the list is random – it shows three items from however many you have in the folder. Refresh the list and it shows three different files. This means that someone who is extremely cheap could save themselves the $2.99 and work around that limitation by refreshing the list lots of time to get the file they want to show up. It shows a respect for their users, instead of “we’ll only let you watch the first 3 files in a folder” InMethod’s approach is “we’ll let you get almost all the functionality, we won’t stop you from watching any video in your served folder, but you’ll have to roll the dice to get it” thereby giving the user the opportunity to decide how much their time/irritation is worth.

Advanced users can also set it up to stream over the internet – instructions are in the FAQ for the software.