How to Pick the Right Mobile Strategy for Your Business

Posted by Dave Curry on May 22, 2012

By Dave CurryTexas Coral Snake

According to Wikipedia, Micrurus tener, the Texas Coral Snake, has one of the most potent venoms of any snake in North America. By all accounts, mgrandmother was one of the kindest, most gentle ladies ever to grace the Lone Star State. Yet, the final score was Grandmother Curry: 2, Texas Coral Snakes: 0.

Grandmother had the Sunday edition of the Corpus Christi Caller-Times (with advertising supplements) in her hand when she encountered her first coral snake sunning itself in her driveway. There wasn’t much left of it when she was done, but she thoughtfully killed the next one with a garden rake and kept it in a glass jar in the basement freezer to show the grandchildren what to beware of. “Red meets yeller, kill a feller,” she’d intone gravely — a folk rhyme referring to the order of the colored bands that distinguish the poisonous species.

My male cousins and I were just the sort to “adopt” reptiles that looked very much like the hapless specimen in the jar and Grandmother knew it. As she intended, we were all duly impressed by her visual aid. I’m sure that, even now, if a milk snake or other harmless Batesian mimic slithered into Caribou Coffee, I’d be able to reassure everyone, “Red meets black, friend of Jack!” And if red met yellow? Well, they may not have the Caller-Times on hand, but I hear that these MacBook Pros can stop a bullet.

I bring this up because sometimes it’s very important to be able to distinguish between things that look alike at first glance. For example, a web site is not an application and vice-versa. When we’re talking about mobile technology, the difference is crucial for advisors who want to effectively use mobile as part of a strategy to evolve their practices.

Mobile Reach vs. Rich

A web site should emphasize reach. It should provide a pleasurable user experience to potential customers who visit to find information about your practice and current clients who, hopefully, will keep coming back to access the resources you have made available to them. As I discussed in my last post, this experience should be uniformly pleasant regardless of whether the user has chosen to access your site from a desktop browser or a mobile one.

An application is distinguished from a web site by its use as a tool, rather than as an information resource. Consequently, an application tends to be more interactive in character than an informational web site does.

For this reason, the emphasis of an application should be on rich. It should provide an engaging user experience that allows the user to productively accomplish the task at hand. This is the case even when the application in question employs web technologies to present its user interface.

The difference between a web site and an application becomes important as you decide how to prioritize your investments in adapting to mobile technologies. This is because the characteristics of current mobile technologies make reach and rich something of a trade-off.

The Mobile Dilemma

The problem is that the rise of mobile devices has brought about a staggering diversity in end-user platforms. To the previous laptop and large monitor display resolutions, popular smartphones and tablets add a range that extends from 2.5 inches at 320×480 to 10 inches and larger at up to 2048×1536. Mobile operating systems such as iOS, Android, Blackberry OS, Windows Phone 7, the ephemeral WebOS, and the chimeral Windows 8 Mobile have taken their places alongside Windows, Mac OS and Linux. For a little extra flavor, three major releases of Android are represented among the most popular Android smartphones. And along with the various mobile operating systems have come mobile browsers that may have the same names as their desktop kin, but are very different in their support for current and legacy web standards.

At the same time, the intrinsic limitations of mobile devices have doomed many of the technologies that developers previously employed to cost-effectively achieve rich, cross-platform user interfaces. Java’s promise, “Write once, run anywhere,” was broken on the iPhone and iPad. Rich Internet Applications (by which Adobe once meant Flex applications, Microsoft meant Silverlight applications, and Sun meant JavaFX applications) are now discussed in terms of web development standards such as HTML 5, CSS 3 and JavaScript for much the same reason. Unfortunately, the evolving state of these standards often tosses “cost-effective” out of the basket.

The classic dilemma is that to achieve a truly rich user experience you have to target a particular platform. But if you want reach, you can’t do that. Unless, of course, you’re rich in the sense that money is no obstacle.

That’s okay. We’re not either.

Setting Your Mobile Strategy

So most of us have to strike a balance between the two. As I have said, the key to doing this is to understand whether you need a mobile web site or a mobile application. Getting this wrong could waste time and money and even annoy the very people you’re trying to reach out to. As a friend recently tweeted, “Memo to Companies Everywhere: I don’t want to download your app, I just want a mobile-friendly version of your web site.”

As an advisor, it’s up to you set your mobile strategy on the right track to achieve your goals. It’s not something you can just leave to the experts. If you let a web designer establish your mobile strategy, you’ll probably end up with a mobile web site. If you let a mobile app developer establish your mobile strategy, you’ll probably end up with an app for whatever mobile platform the developer is versed in. Vendors and consultants can help you with the hows, but you have to start with the whats.

I’ll discuss the considerations for these different uses of mobile technology in separate posts to come. I’m enough like my grandmother that I don’t like to see anyone reach for the wrong thing and get bit.

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