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Should Companies Put Mobile First?

Taking care of mobile readers is more important than putting desktop readers first. That might sound controversial, but according to the mobile-first doctrine, emphasizing mobile readers has many benefits. These include progressive advancement and prioritizing the larger audience. As reading digital media on mobile devices continues to grow in popularity, the mobile-first approach gains further credibility.

The question of what mobile-first publishing is still causes some confusion. Digiday published an article concerning the mobile-first approach in which they asked higher-ups in popular companies what the mobile-first approach is. The president of Buzzfeed stated, “Mobile-first is not enough. Mobile should be all you care about.” Similarly, the president of Business Insider stated, “It means mobile at the expense of other formats, so an experience that’s great on mobile but lousy elsewhere – or not as good elsewhere.” Dow Jones’s head of consumer product said, “Mobile-first is shorthand for saying that the dominant platform for digital media will soon be portable computers.” Not all means of pursuing the mobile-first approach need to be as ruthless as Buzzfeed or Business Insider’s presidents suggest. Progressive advancement lays a path to prioritizing mobile-first publishing without necessarily cutting the high-quality design desktops are known for.

Progressive advancement is a means of approaching digital media and publishing. Companies have to decide how they are going to divide their time when creating content for digital consumption. The question is whether they should focus on developing content primarily for smartphones, or tablets and desktops. Progressive advancement provides a way forward in the mobile-first approach. This method advocates the development of the content for the mobile platform first. Then, take that product and adjust it for tablet and desktop, adding features and editing the content to make the tablet and desktop versions more attractive and unique. So, ultimately, the progressive advancement method is beneficial for tablet and desktop platforms as well as mobile platforms.

The other method of approaching digital media is called “graceful degradation.” It calls for the prioritization of developing digital content for desktop first, then tablet, and finally mobile devices. The product would like spectacular on desktop with plentiful features, but as one continues down the line to mobile, features are lost and one is left with an “afterthought.” Essentially, priority is given to the desktop device, so mobile devices are left with a skeleton of what was before. Graceful degradation may be a great option for those whose consumers are almost exclusively on desktop as that is where focus is placed.

Perhaps the question is why mobile-first is the approach to pursue. The basic answer is that exploring the internet via mobile phone has exploded in popularity. In 2016, mobile internet usage was higher than desktop internet usage. At 51.3%, mobile internet usage was about 3% higher than desktop internet usage with a continuing trend towards mobile internet usage. Smartphone sales were higher than desktop sales as early as 2012. Allconnect published an article with more recent statistics regarding the discussion. As of 2022, mobile phones constituted 60% of web traffic while desktops and tablets only had a total of 39%. Additionally, adults in the United States generally spent over five hours per day on their mobile phone in 2022.

Another aspect of mobile-first publishing that should be considered is that of applications. Applications (apps) have become a normal part of everyday life for many. As of 2021, about 51% of mobile phone users check their apps between 1 to 10 times per day and an additional 25% check their apps between 11-20 times a day. These statistics open a discussion of whether companies should spend the time and resources to develop an app for consumers to use. Depending on the size of the company, the answer is most likely yes. An app where one’s publishing will be viewed is better favored by the public than accessing the content via the device’s browser.

Publishing with a mobile-first approach is becoming more popular, with some new companies strictly operating and publishing on mobile devices. As mobile devices have become more prevalent and efficient, desktop computers are not as necessary and are less convenient in terms of mobility. However, a mobile-first approach does not mean the end of desktops, nor does it mean leaving desktops as an “afterthought” either, but if companies take the progressive advancement approach to the mobile-first doctrine, mobile phones, tablets, and desktops can feature high-quality published content. Mobile-first publishing has multiple definitions and applications in terms of how it is planned out, but putting mobile first will result in putting the majority of one’s consumers first as well.