How can I build mobile device-friendly websites? This question will be one of the most frequently asked at the coming IFRA Expo in Vienna (12 - 15 October 2009 www.ifraexpo.com).
Bjarne Solhaug, COO / SVP International Affairs at Mobiletech AS, the company that helped, this summer, The Washington Post and the Globe and Mail to revamp their mobile websites, sees an explosion in mobile projects and their realisation in the U.S.A. Whereas he has appreciation for the iPhone, he also underlines that it is only a small part of the picture in a mobile strategy.
Bjarne Solhaug, COO / SVP
International Affairs at Mobiletech AS
Launching an iPhone application is simple, fast and there’s an AppStore (Apple Store) to distribute it/sell it, but you think this is not the ideal strategy, why?
With the hype around the iPhone, the growing number of users, etc., it makes sense that the marketing services of the newspaper companies want to create news applications for mobile phones. It is also well known that iPhone owners around the world represent a large percentage of mobile website users, thus driving traffic to those sites*. Apple has created a good system, and they are very good at what they do. But applications developers will also argue that it is very difficult to reach the top of the Apple store (hence be visible), and once you drop off from the top it’s quite difficult for people to find you. An additional thing is that it’s costly to maintain several different mobile platforms.
So the iPhone is only a small part of the picture in a mobile strategy. We think that no publisher should restrict his reach to a modest percentage of his potential audience by using someone else’s proprietary platform, be it the most popular at the moment. A media company wants to reach 100% of its audience and this is only possible if you open your mobile platform to all the devices available in the market.
Was that the argument that convinced the people at the Washington Post and the Globe and Mail?
The Washington Post is a good example in this area. They now have a complete mobile platform in-house that let their team choose and create the direction they want to take for their mobile strategy. Of all parties, the Washington Post is the one who best knows Washington Post’s customers, hence it is they who know the best way to communicate with the customers. They just needed the enabling software. The Globe and Mail had already been active in the mobile area, but they wanted also an in-house solution. The trend we see is that more and more publishers want to control the platform and stop being dependent on a third-party solution to manage their mobile services. Publishers have discovered the need and opportunities that lie within control and freedom throughout the mobile value chain. Both in terms of editorial and creative freedom. That is what I see as the major change these last months.
What do you mean by controlling the platform?
What companies like ours do is to help publishers keep control by giving them the software they need to eliminate all the traditional difficulties in the mobile channels, such as device adaptation, and empowering the customer’s organisation to optimise and control the full mobile value chain with minimal changes to existing organisation and workflow. But the essential difference is also that by using the Internet as a platform and distribution channel, instead of only relying on the AppStore, media companies can build a more comprehensive business model including advertising, paid-for content or e-commerce. Another major added-value that we bring is that there is a full compatibility with all devices equipped with an Internet connection and a browser (versus a compliance with targeted versions of the iPhone). There are significant advantages to be able to roll on multiple platforms be it Android, Symbian, etc... The reason why those publishers chose us was that starting from their content management system it was very easy to roll out different devices and channels. Our adaptation of the content, for instance, is a very modern approach to the increasing defragmentation out there. It is not only about the device dimension anymore. In order to connect to the user in a relevant context you need to consider the browser and connectivity dimension as well. The end result is that content owners no longer need worry about the device rendering complexities and adaptation to the mobile context; this is done for them on all devices, browsers and means of connectivity. Furthermore, mobile is first and foremost a social tool. The telecom mobile network is the largest social network as we see it. So it’s also about enabling the customer to integrate into the end user’s own social workflow. This is also functionality that is easily available for our customers.
Another big topic of discussion since a few months is that mobile websites would be a good environment to launch paid-for services, what is your advice in this area?
When we started our presence in the U.S.A. in 2007, people were still wondering why they should start mobile services. Since a few months, things have changed a lot and now the common question is: How do we get started? With the launch of iPhone, the American market is very much catching up with other parts of the world. And, of course, with the high pressure on revenues, it’s tempting to want immediate revenues from mobile websites. There’s a lot of discussion about charging for content but beforehand what publishers need to get right is the user experience, and it’s a different approach on a mobile because it’s not only about shifting your content from one platform to another, but adapting to a device that is based on a “one-on-one relationship” with the reader. Publishers need to work on the usability of their brands in this new environment before they ask their readers to pay for their services. They should start building services around the users’ behaviour. Once you have defined what sort of “premium services” people would be ready to pay for, the billing system is fairly easy to implement: through the mobile operator, the company’s subscription system or by charging directly to the customer’s credit card. What we’ve clearly seen in other areas (e.g. software, games…), is that mobile users are accustomed to paying for services on their mobile phone.
*Between April and June 2009, RIM (Blackberry) and Apple (iPhone/iPod Touch) devices account for 79% of the incoming hits to the Washington Post mobile Web sites.
The Washington Post Revamps Mobile Products : http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-adv/media_kit/wp/press_releases/the_was...