Wednesday, May 18, 2011

56/100: The Mobile Dimension

I spent yesterday in the Adobe 'Experience Matters' seminar in London - a showcase of Adobe's enterprise tools and multi-platform capability - which was every bit worthwhile as I learned so many new things. It was indeed good to spend some time learning about new technologies: The new ideas, as ever, were refreshing, and there were some really good presenters there.

The presentations were primarily focused on what Adobe tools can do for a large corporation, but I took away a different message. That the world is mobile, and any service that does not acknowledge this, is surely not going to impress. I have since been looking at this more closely and what I found has only reaffirmed my initial impression. I have learned that more than 40% of users blame the brand, not their mobile, or network provider, when their mobile browsing experience is not satisfactory. There are, of course, massive amount of research on Mobile Internet usage (you can access one here) and all point to one central fact - that Internet has become 'splinternet', a multi-platform, multi-device hotchpotch, as Ron Rogowski of Forrester reminded everyone. [Ron's presentation was indeed one of the best in a day of very high quality presentations, and he surely deserves this special mention here.]

It was also interesting to think that the user today approaches a brand, an web brand more than anything else, through multiple channels and platforms, and the companies must try to offer a consistent, engaging experience. But the way companies look to engage the customers is very inside out, divided in silos. The best thing we have had in engaging with customers is the CRM, a tool to maximize profit and completely defined from the perspective of the company. How often do we throw company-speak at the customers, making the VP sound like God and forgetting that the customer does not report to him? So - completely agree with the presenters - companies often offer customers a fragmented, broken in silos experience.

My central takeaway is that one can't build a serious web-based presence in today's world (in fact, any serious presence at all) which does not acknowledge the mobile reality. The prediction that PCs will be a thing of the past was around since 2001; the changes are just coming to a tipping point. This year, more than 100 varieties of tablet computers are likely to be launched. 3G is spreading like wildfire across the world. I shall borrow another concept I learned: This is the age of capability-mobility convergence. The handheld device is becoming more and more powerful, multi-functional and able to perform many tasks which needed sitting down in front of a desktop not so long ago. Given this, there is no point building something for a fixed screen alone. This will be like releasing a movie today which can't be shown on a TV.

This makes scoping any online learning project quite difficult. The researches on Mobile Learning behaviour is still quite limited. Higher Ed on mobile is still a difficult concept to grasp. One would usually expect people to be entertained, but not educated, while squeezing himself in a crowded train. However, it is only fair to assume that we are not just talking about bus or train rides when we talk about mobility: The mobility means freedom, and it means catching up on a webinar in the middle of a beach vacation. We can't just pre-suppose anymore that the learners will carry around a laptop when they can do almost everything on their iPads.

Given that the mobile internet experience is still about shallowness - less clicks, more bounce rates - this is supposed to have a flattening experience on learning delivery. Besides, there is a screen size limitation and what you can actually do while delivering on a mobile device. This is a difficult balancing act one has to keep in mind, designing particularly for the mobile environment while attempting to give users an unified experience, and this is my greatest takeaway of the day.

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