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Mobile Ubiquity

Article By Ari Buchwald May, 2001

Call me an early adopter, play baby or toy hound. I recently subscribed to receive wireless Web service on my mobile phone. In the past few weeks of surfing and wading, I found that even beyond the hype, there are some real lessons marketers need to learn about the opportunities and limitations of the mobile Web experience (of course above the mechanical - slow connection speed, clunky data entry and micro viewing screens).


A relative quipped when hearing about my strained eyes and tired thumbs, “Voice recognition will solve some problems, others will be taken care of by evolution as humans develop compound eyes and shrunken fingers”.


High Tech – Low Expectations?


It doesn’t take a futurist to point out that big bandwidth is the future of the Internet. In an odd quirk, we are finally reaching the plateau where computers readily emulate phone and TV service. This seems weird since cable and phone lines provide nearly all Internet access today.


Today’s mobile user probably has a combination of high and low expectations. Small screens and keyboards limit rich experiences. In another quirk, mobile devices probably will be seen as freeing the user in the short term by having critical expanded availability without over-exposure and feelings of inundation (this is largely due to novelty of the channel; advertisers are catching on quick). Today, most mobile devices such as my phone automatically circumvent pop-ups, banner ads and slow loading graphics! Also, the small keyboard encourages quick, considered messages, as lengthy prose takes too much time to data-enter.


Content Types


Remember when company Web sites' home page gave the option of frames/no frames? Nowadays it is Flash/no Flash... Tomorrow the mantra will be Flash/HTML/Mobile...


On my first try to get to a Web site, I found some strict limitations imposed by the high tech design of the page. Much to my surprise, when the mobile service provider (MSP) strips graphics and applets out of the page, only text and hyperlinks make it to the phone. In most cases, this eliminates mobile access to almost the entire site map.


Slick productions that include Flash, jhtml, VRML and Java and others are lost on the mobile user as rollover menus and graphics do not properly load on all WAP-enabled devices produced today, with the exception of handheld computers such as iPaq or NTT Docomo mobile devices.


Most large information portals already employ a companion mobile site, such as Yahoo!’s Yahoo!Mobile site, but links are not readily disclosed from the home page and not all sites use sniffer programs to auto direct mobile users to the appropriate URL.


PC Before Mobile


Without a simple hyperlink on the home page to a site map or mobile companion site, mobile Web users are essentially locked out. Many portals and content providers have mobile friendly sites, but they may be difficult to find without first visiting the portal on a wired computer. As an example, I found mobile companion directions buried 7 to 8 pages deep, and in 4-point type for AOL Mobile and Instant Messenger Mobile. Also, it is interesting to note that this information was too new or hidden from technical support customer service representatives as well.


Today, Internet users can guess URLs, typically the company’s name preceded with “www” and followed by “.com”, but mobile companion sites tend to have different URL prefixes. Some that I have encountered are mobile.sitename and pb.sitename, making it even harder for the user to guess or find the site.


Many of these sites also require that the user first log on via a wired computer to establish a login ID, password, and customize some options. This prohibits the user from being able to interact with the site on the fly. Today this is a hindrance and a challenge to the mobile warrior.


Delivery


For most mobile WAP enabled devices today, delivery is limited to text-only. Of course this is changing rapidly. PDAs, such as Palm, iPaq and NTT Docomo now integrate mobile access. Mobile phones also integrate basic ASP-type applications such as calendars, email and address books via Internet connections. Today’s user should have high expectations for receiving in text format; directions, reviews of movies and restaurants, short news, emails (without attachments), and preset purchasing such as stock trading. By accessing other sites, users can synchronize their devices with Outlook (www.readysynchgo.com), and access additional text-only versions of their content portals (AOL, Excite, MSN, Yahoo).


Long term, just as with the wired Internet, the mobile user should expect increased bandwidth and technological advances to bring on an experience more similar to the PC, delivering streaming graphics and, of course, more ads. Tomorrow’s technology will incorporate short distance messaging such as Bluetooth or Wireless Location-based Services (WLS), now being developed and marketed by companies such as SignalSoft, Kivera, or Cellpoint. These new wireless technologies will allow short proximity identification, communication and personalization. The main question lingering today is not if the technology will come about, rather who will set the standard.


Imagine if you will, driving along the expressway and receiving customized ads and information delivered via the car radio or even on billboards, apprising you of relevant local news, friends who are also in the neighborhood and retail stores or locations of interest.


Usability


Another challenge today is in synchronization. Every service I’ve signed up for in the last few years have required that I accept yet another set of email address, login and password. Right now, my mobile phone allows me access to all of my email accounts. The challenge is using 3 different processes to receive mail on 4 email addresses. I have 4 address books, two of which are the phones, one synchs to my AOL account and one more to my work. I have 3 messenger options between MSN, AOL and the two-way text option available for a nominal fee on my phone.


This can get darn confusing and time consuming. As MSN and AOL, Yahoo and Excite learn to play together, expect that standards will start to form, or third party workarounds such as ReadySynchGo will ease the constraints currently placed on the user. This will not only benefit the mobile user, but the wired Internet world at large.


mCRM


As you know, the mobile channel allows anywhere access. This is not going to go away. Rather, when mobile Web access becomes more prevalent, expect self-service to take on new meaning.


In the near future, smart chips in mobile devices will allow users to communicate in short range, pay for purchases without checkout lines, find the best prices while on the run and connect to smart appliances for total control of the home. Imagine the high tech experience of receiving a phone alert that the milk has run out and there is a sale, just as you reach proximity to a grocery store.


Stepping toward the future


Consider the following quick hits on the road to instituting mobile customer relationship management:


  • Consider how your company uses information. Is mobile access for customers and employees a must-have or a nice-to-have for the continued success of your business?
  • Embrace the mobile user! Do not hide the URL for access if the mobile site has a different address (e.g. mobile.site, pb.site).
  • Have a mobile roadmap. If there is not a companion mobile site, include a hyperlink to a text sitemap on the home page.
  • Consider use of graphics, streaming media and applets as well as programming languages, device manufacturers and bandwidth. Also consider the technology available, adoption rates, etc. before designing the site using new or high tech devices and techniques. The fact of the matter is, most mobile users now only have access via WAP-enabled devices which can only process limited, crude, black and white graphics. Can the user gain the same information or experience from the page without them?
  • Track the mobile user. Monitor access via mobile devices, add this information to the marketing database.
  • Optimize mobile personalization functionality. Don’t require users to log on via a wired computer prior to accessing the site via a mobile device.
  • Consider how synchronization affects the enterprise. Strive to integrate systems to that work together or integrate new components easily.
  • In the short term, expect wireless Web offerings to increase as companies continue experimenting with new ways to provide access to existing sites to mobile customers. As with any experimentation, results won’t be perfect, nor will user experience be optimal. . That is until mobile technology and bandwidth catches up with the wired computer world.


Remember that no matter how slick the design and technology is; always accommodate the lowest common denominator In the short term, expect wireless Web offerings to increase as companies continue experimenting with new ways to provide access to existing sites to mobile customers. As with any experimentation, results won’t be perfect, nor will user experience be optimal. . That is until mobile technology and bandwidth catches up with the wired computer world.


Since mobile access is bound for ubiquity, just as the Internet before it, companies will have to acknowledge and expedite the mobile relationship. To stay ahead of the curve, review your company website and see how it stacks up for the early adopter.