Friday, September 11, 2015

Digital Strategy:Mobile vs Desktop?

Each device  has a different screen resolution and orientation
We spend a lot time talking to our customers about the relative differences & benefits of mobile versus desktop users, since we have our foot in both the development of web portals and eLearning. Most clients simply assume that desktop  and mobile users are accessible readily and that there are no additional costs in communicating to both platforms. Not true ... as it stands today, digital communications are not ubiquitous across both the desktop and mobile platforms; and as a result there are often hidden costs in developing content. 

Evolving and migrating technologies from one standard or format to another has been with us for generations. Many of us have experienced this in our lifetime, as we have moved from cassettes to USB storage devices and from simple gaming systems to tablets and smart phones. As technology evolves and capacity expands we seem to straddle multiple technologies simultaneously. Multiple media formats seem to co-exist in the marketplace at any one time; and this trend now appears to be some kind of “law of evolving technology.” I think the cost of communicating to both desktops and mobile devices has been obscured because of the similarity in the technology. In the past it was pretty easy to spot the differences because of the dramatic change in format, size and application.

 Hand held devices have varying resolutions and screen orientation to enhance the user's visual experience. This is at the heart of what is different about this evolution. It is an incremental and simultaneously specific improvement.  Adapting the visual look and feel of the communication  experience to the type of smart phone, desktop or tablet is not a transparent process. Our online digital communications are designed to interrogate the device we are trying to communicate with to determine its resolution and deliver the format that best suits the device. This often means creating two versions of any web site, portal or eLearning experience,and each has to be tweaked to make sure its is delivering the intended experience in most formats.

In the past we would have been eager to blame this on the manufacturer failing to agree on a standard or format but in this instance we have to take some of the blame. Each of us wants a personal experience, one that is unique and responds to our needs and as a result it appears that a variety of resolutions and orientation are going to be with us well into the future.  I am sure that with time, these issues will be resolved, where adaptive design can deliver a common experience on a very personal device using one communications, entertainment or advertising standard programming  language. But, that is the future - and for now…there are additional costs to developing for multiple formats.

Many organizations and business when planning eLearning for example, automatically include both mobile and desktop audiences. They do this because the media is awash in stories, studies and statements heralding the advent of the mobile user and their need to be included in any digital strategy. What is not being included or understood by organizations is the cost of communicating to each audience, including desktops or mobile, or both!  I think organizations have to ask themselves, do you really want people sitting at Starbucks or riding the subway using their phones to try and learn complex ideas. There are some practical standards that must be considered in the learning process that place some of the learning responsibility on the leaner. 

 I think we have to investigate the demographics of each group to better understand - how each segment uses these technologies and understand what value they place on the information provided - to help us understand cost/benefit of an initiative. There are some circumstances where designing for primarily a desktop audience is more cost effective for the type of audience, the content and the way information is being consumed.  This is often more cost effective when detailed information must be delivered and comprehension of complex ideas may be involved, especially when you consider that desktops still have a significant presence in office settings and sales continue to be surprisingly strong. Alternatively, retail web sites and broad product-driven web sites should be developed for both desktop and mobile platforms since customers demand  convenience and a uniquely personal experience. 

Don’t misunderstand me, mobile devices such as tablets and smart phones are the future and they continue to be a growing segment in market, statistics show they will surpass PC sales this year. But it will be some time before PCs are no longer used in offices` and tablets are used as the primary means of office productivity. 

So, when you are planning an online project, there are many circumstances where developing for all platforms makes sense. But remember, it all comes at a cost, if you’re developing learning strategies you may want to consider how delivering complex content on a mobile device in a variety of settings may affect our understanding and appreciation of the content. 

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