Posted by Nicole Hambleton / Article, Mobile /

The term Mobile First was coined by Luke Wroblewski and basically talks about how digital strategy should think mobile first in their design and concept phase. The concept has been supported by industry specialists such as Ethan Marcotte (Responsive Design Pioneer), who believe that the way of the future is mobile. So what does Mobile First mean to most strategy, design and branding agencies and why is it important?

Australia currently has one of the highest penetration rates in the world for smartphones at 52% of our population. Interestingly just a year ago it was only 37%. In the US the penetration rate is at 44% and the UK is not far behind Australia at 51%. Data supports an upward trend as it continues to grow at an exponential rate. By 2015 smartphone usage is tipped to exceed desktop usage.

What differentiates the mobile device from the web?

Mobile technology is not just an extension of the web as we have come to know it over the past two decades, it is a new platform with different user behaviours and possibilities. To treat it like a mere evolution will limit the opportunities to engage with the consumer or audience. A mobile device has a smaller screen size but more possibilities for user experience and interaction.

The mobile phone can be an interactive device, which means swiping, touching, watching, listening, taking photos. People don’t look at a smartphone or tablet, they use it and interact with it. When designing a strategy that involves mobile technology you need to think about the possible ways you can connect with your audience.

People emotionally connect with their phones and tablet devices. A mobile isn't a computer screen to them, it's a personal tool that they are emotionally invested in. A growing number of users would give up their TV before they gave up their mobile device. It’s a tool they use to keep in touch with friends and family, a way to stay in touch with the world, to find out the latest news, play their favourite games and connect with social media. Not being accessible on a person's mobile phone / tablet / device is akin to excluding them from the brand, as they feel the brand is not connecting with them personally.

The phone and tablet are portable, they are connected to the user and move around with them. This means you can implement technologies such as geolocation. It also means that regardless of where they are, the target audience has the opportunity to connect with your clients whether it be through a simple website, game, app or even NFC ( The user is there, ready to connect.

What does mobile first thinking mean?

Mobile first doesn’t mean that the desktop or other device are not important, rather it means recognising that a large proportion of the user base is now accessing their sites / information on a mobile device first, rather than on the desktop. To engage with this user the digital strategy needs to understand that mobile and desktop elicit different user behaviour.

The nature of the mobile devices out there also means that technical and design considerations have to be adopted early on in a digital strategy to avoid alienating the mobile device user. Adopting technologies like HTML5, Javascript and native smartphone languages is essential if you want the mobile user to be able to even access your campaign. 

In order to understand what type of mobile digital strategy the campaign / brand will need first you need to consider why people might be accessing the brand / company on their mobile. There are several reasons, some are organically linked simply to convenience others need to led by the digital strategy:

  • The user is not stationary, they are moving around therefore they have no option but to access on a mobile device.
  • The user is connected to their mobile device as a personal tool, therefore it’s easily accessible.
  • The mobile device is their private device.
  • The mobile offers interactivity or a user experience that the desktop doesn’t.

Why are people logging onto their mobile device?

There are many reasons why people reach for their mobiles to connect with an application or website. Some like mCommerce are increasing but not yet huge, others like native applications are already dominating usage statistics.

Here are some reasons why the average mobile device user is logging on today all around the globe:

  • Download and use an application
  • Browse the internet
  • Purchase a product/service
  • Search for a produc
  • Search for travel/holidays
  • Search for a flat/house
  • Search for jobs
  • Search for entertainment experience (eating out, pub)
  • Access a social network
  • Access, send and read emails
  • Creating, sharing and viewing video / photos
  • Watch a TV program (ie catch-up)
  • Read news or magazines
  • Review websites/blogs/message boards
  • Forums
  • Search for directions using GPS
  • Play games
  • Access financial records or internet banking
  • Pay for goods with mobile wallet
  • Scan QR codes or use NFC
  • Redeem and use vouchers


Responding to user behaviour

As already mentioned the mobile device is not just an evolution of the desktop, it is a technology and digital strategy in its own right. The mobile device offers a user experience that the desktop can't. There is an entire generation growing up using mobile devices before they even started using a desktop. If you have ever seen a pic of a baby watching YouTube you’ll see how ingrained it is in our younger generation! That’s not to say it isn't a growing medium for the older generations, in fact many of them are becoming quite adept at accessing websites, social media and emails on their handheld devices.

The exciting thing about embracing mobile technology is that is opens up a lot of doors that were not available with the limitations of the desktop. Not only does the mobile device offer the opportunity to expand the digital branding, it can change the way the user interacts with it.

Some ways to incorporate mobile first thinking into the mobile strategy:

  • Social media
  • Native apps
  • Gaming or competitions
  • NFC (Near Field Communication) strategy
  • Responsive design

Understanding the User: The nature of the mobile makes it accessible, portable and interactive, allowing the user to actively engage with the product, service or brand on the move, in the privacy of their home, at their workplace, while on public transport and while on holidays. It’s also a portable device to interact with external stimulus, using technology such as NFC, you can use your mobile to scan barcodes, get directions, buy online plane and movie tickets and gain access to clubs. Which is why it’s not just a portable internet device, it’s an interactive digital tool. Technologies such as NFC are still gaining traction but we predict we’ll see an increase in adoption of these tools in 2013.

Mobile Dominated Connectivity: There is also an assumption that mobile users will only use a device if they have a spare few seconds or minutes and not use it for extensive browsing. While that might still ring true in a lot of circumstances, when you consider tablets and larger android devices, this may be a misconception. For some people mobile browsing, research, shopping and communication is done predominantly or exclusively on their tablet or phone. This means deciding if your application or site should be designed for quick access or extensive browsing needs to be determined by the user and their chosen platform.

Responsive Design: Not all brands require their mobile strategy to delve into interactivity though, and for those sites there is the option of responsive design. Responsive design can allow a company to tap into the mobile market without having to develop a specialised mobile site or app. Read more about responsive design on one of our previous articles

For the average mobile device user, it’s not about the technology, the apps or even the brands. Going mobile is about using their mobile device as an extension of their lifestyle and a tool to execute tasks. There are a lot of scenarios as to how the mobile device will affect the way we communicate, brand and market services and products in the future and just how entrenched it will be in everyday living. While there are still industry leaders disagreeing on the specifics, what is clear is that mobile is here and it’s growing. TV changed advertising in the 1950s and the mobile device is changing the advertising world now.


Graphs courtesy of Our Mobile Planet,