Mobile is eating the web

Marc Andreesen famously said that “software is eating the world.” Now it looks like mobile is eating the web.

Back in 2010, Mary Meeker and Morgan Stanley predicted that within the next five years, “more users will connect to the Internet over mobile devices than desktop PCs.” We’ve arrived at that milestone. The shift from desktop to mobile, whether smartphone or tablet, is happening across a variety of activities. For example, as of January 2013 Facebook has more mobile users than web users – as more and more people are checking their Facebook updates on their mobile device and skipping the desktop version entirely. Likewise in 2013, news consumption on mobile devices surpassed desktop, and consumers now spend more time interacting with online retailers on smartphone and tablets than they do on desktops and laptops.

Like any platform shift, this mobile wave obviously has major implications for any business. Here are four key trends that companies, whether web-first or mobile-first, need to be aware of.

1. Don’t just adapt for a smaller screen, but re-think UX

Most web-first companies have completely underestimated the radical change that mobile brings about. Many still think that mobile is simply an extension of the Web. After all, it’s human nature to view something new within the context of what we already know. That happened when we moved from radio to TV, print to web, and web to mobile. Luke Wroblewski speaks about this in a great talk (discussion of shift from one media to another begins around 10:30).

Every new medium needs a new way of thinking. A mobile device is not just a smaller or less powerful version of a desktop computer. It’s an entirely new form of media that’s unique to itself. For example, it’s always on; it’s always with us; and it offers more interactivity than ever before. Businesses need to invent new use cases and applications that make full use of the new platform, rather than just copying existing models from the web.

2.  The risk of unbundling

Albert Wenger discussed the risk of unbundling as it relates to Facebook: “On my phone another app is just a button push away and there is relatively little that fits on each screen.  So it is just as much effort to go to another part of the Facebook app as there is to go to a different app altogether.”

This means that each mobile app is continually competing for attention with countless other apps. It also means that one large platform/app doesn’t necessarily enjoy a monopoly, as users can just as easily opt for six best-of-breed point applications.

3. Distribution strategies are different

For companies looking to build a presence via mobile apps, there’s the matter of discoverability. Strong product market fit is often no longer enough to get to a large user base, instead “you need to master the “download app, use app, keep using app, put it on your home screen” flow and that is a hard one to master.” And many distribution strategies that worked on the web (like long-tail SEO), simply don’t work in an app ecosystem.

4. Customer support opportunities

Considering the fact that more than 50% of inbound customer service calls will be made from mobile devices by 2016, mobile presents a big opportunity to rethink the customer support experience. From a pure voice-call standpoint, it doesn’t matter whether a call originates from a landline or mobile device. However, mobile devices give companies even more ways to reach out and assist their customers. Customer service apps can provide a level of interaction not possible on a landline – including the ability to use video, send photos or instructions, chat, and voice. But companies need to think beyond what has been done before, and invent brand new experiences for mobile.

While the rapid pace of mobile adoption has caught many businesses off guard, there’s a big opportunity for start-ups to rethink a product or vertical in a mobile-first way. There’s also an opportunity to provide the infrastructure for traditional web companies to move to mobile.

More than half of Version One portfolio companies are either mobile-first or mobile-only companies, so it’s safe to say we’re excited about seeing the next generation of mobile businesses and experiences.

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