For 18 months, I rolled my eyes every time someone mentioned Instagram. Yes, it made for easy sharing of beautifully filtered photos...if you had an iPhone. And if your mobile phone wasn't crashing every 5 minutes. I rolled my eyes even harder when Instagram, finally available on Android (too bad I switched to iPhone a few months before this happened), was purchased by Facebook for a whopping $1B. "It's because Facebook won't survive without a mobile play," some surmised.
Now Facebook has it's own Instagram-like photo app, separate from it's sluggish, but meaty, main app. It also has a pages app. And I'm sure that there will be all sorts of Facebook mobile apps being launched that break up the main one into more useable bits.
Well, THERE is an experience I'm looking forward to (not). Actually, I shouldn't be sarcastic. It makes perfect sense. The Facebook app really does suck. It's huge and loads slowly and crashes all of the time and makes me want to throw my phone under a bus. But here is the thing...I'm getting really really eye rollingly tired of the whole mobile mobile mobile thing because, well, THE PHONES AND NETWORKS CAN'T SUPPORT THIS SO-CALLED REVOLUTION.
They can't. The hardware is getting better, true. With every new Android, iPhone, Windows Phone, Blackberry arms race, we are seeing big improvements in the hardware: nicer cameras, more memory, faster performance, better screens, etc. But with every improvement comes more people trying to do more stuff on those awfully sagging networks. And those aren't improving nearly as quickly.
Not to mention the screen sizes. It doesn't matter how much you design for mobile, when it comes to reading something meaty or watching a longer video or just keeping up with the news, there is only so much my eyes can take from that small screen before I put it down and decide to wait until I'm in front of my laptop again.
I used to be a mobile addict. I was one of those people in early Blackberry, then Palm Treo, then Blackberry again and finally iPhone days whose faces were constantly in my phone. At the first sign of boredom or discomfort, I pulled out the phone and found something to keep me entertained. This happened on the bus, at parties and even out with friends. It was okay. We were all phones on the table people.
But in the past couple of years, I've grown tired of being stuck to my phone and I'm more interested in interacting with the world around me. I still go to the phone when incredibly bored or uncomfortable (eating alone or in a waiting room) and I couldn't live without it for so many things (maps, checking in - love remembering where I've been, taking photos on the fly, coordinating with people, having the ability to Google something mid-conversation, etc), but I find myself keeping it in my bag more and more.
I'm also giving my boyfriend a harder time about his addiction. I've asked him to not reach for the phone as soon as he wakes up. Phones are a no-no when on dates unless there is something we absolutely need to keep on top of. If we are boring one another to reach for our phones, the problem is bigger than the lack of a phone, right?
Facebook aside, though, I'm not particularly fond of these mobile-only applications like Instagram. I use it, yes. It makes my pictures look better. But I post every single photo to Facebook AND Flickr. I want to be able to access it later: put it in a blog post or send it in an email to my parents. I like being able to tag and group and search my images. I've recently fallen in love with Memolane, a service that tells me what I was doing 1-2-3-4-5 years ago in daily emails. Today I found out that the very first Cupcake Camp took place at CitizenSpace (my old coworking space, sigh) 4 years ago today. The day I received the photo of myself 4 years prior in thankful tears right after I finished writing my book, I reminisced that amazing feeling.
What I'm saying is that I don't like the way the mobile web is separated from the web. It's the web, dammit. Yes, design for the small screen and to take advantages to the mobility the phone gives your customers, but don't ignore the fact that your customers live fluidly between mobile and desktop. And perhaps someday we'll be doing EVERYTHING mobile (I used to believe it was closer than I do now - just think of the processing power it takes to run most business programs! Instagram crashes my phone. I'd hate to see what Keynote or PowerPoint would do!), but today, we are not.
What mobile IS good for is:
- applications that kill time - games, browsing, liking, poking and pinning, reading short snippets
- applications that are real time only - time sensitive stuff that you won't need to dig up later (which most social networks THINK they are, but are not)
- applications that are location driven - "I need coffee in a 10 block radius, stat!" (remember that Foursquare has always had a desktop interface to see your history)
- applications that are enhanced by using a mobile camera - barcode scanners, food porn, etc.
Anything that requires a history or persistence or a way to connect people together at a later time require a web interface that can be viewed on your desktop. And no matter how powerful my phone gets, I see the need for this for a long time period to come.
And if you are still not convinced? I definitely would NOT have just typed 1000 words on my iPhone. I have a tough enough time typing 10 words on that thing. That consumer desire for simplicity and aesthetics is reason enough to know why the desktop isn't going to die anytime soon.
When people ask me about the Buyosphere mobile app, I tell them that we have a strategy, but are prioritizing our web experience. Many of them roll their eyes like I'm not with the program. Like I'm a dinosaur. What many people don't understand is how you need to use a mobile strategy to serve people when they are mobile. If your site isn't useful on a mobile screen or isn't a good real-time, time-killing, location-based experience, then that bandwagon is an expensive waste of time.
Of course we want to be mobile compatible (working on that now) and our mobile app will happen someday. It will be a different part of our strategy, where location-based and real-time matters to the user. The content will be available on the web, though. So when someone thinks, "Where was that great shoe store that I visited in Albuquerque? Oh yeah, it was recommended on Buyosphere!" they can pull up the information and send it to their distant cousin who has no use for Buyosphere, but needs to find a pair of shoes while traveling through Albuquerque.
I know that mobile is important and that we all need to think of how we give our users as much access to interact as possible, but it's not a silver bullet nor is it applicable for everything. We are still a long way from an entirely mobile world. Let's think about how we do it right, not rushed.