The profound business implications of a mobile-first internet: Control Shift

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During the ‘90s and most of the 2000s, there was little doubt about which device was primarily used to access the internet: the PC.

Sure, there were other devices you could use to access the internet. The web has been accessible in some form on mobile phones since the early 2000s. There were also early tablets, some PDAs and web TV devices with internet capabilities.

But the office desktop, laptop or home computer was the primary device – and often the only device – most people used to surf the web.

During the recent Google I/O developer conference, the tech giant revealed that it now views smartphones, rather than PCs, as the primary device people use for accessing the internet.

Of course, mobile-first doesn’t mean that people aren’t choosing to use other devices when they have the choice – quite the opposite. It is certainly far more comfortable editing an Office 365 document on a PC or laptop than on a mobile. Likewise, reading an e-book is far more enjoyable on a tablet than on a smartphone.

But people aren’t likely to be carrying these devices with them at all times. For most people, assuming nothing better is available, the first device they’ll grab to check for new emails, quickly look up a fact in Wikipedia, take a photo of their restaurant meal or send a tweet will be their smartphones. In other words, their mobile is their first “go-to” device for accessing the internet.

Just to be clear, by “the internet”, I’m not just talking about the web. I also mean email, cloud-based services, apps, streaming video, and everything else on the internet.

This shift has taken a number of years – it’s certainly not a new trend – and has a number of profound implications for how people use the internet. In turn, these implications have massive implications for many businesses.

Here are five of the fundamental and profound differences between the old PC-first internet and the new mobile-first internet:

1. It’s always on and always connected

The first is that the internet – including apps, the web, emails, cloud services – is now always instantly accessible. The smartphone – and through it, the internet – is permanently connected, always on and always carried.

In the past, even if people carried their laptop around with them in a bag, few would bother to pull out a laptop and boot it up to quickly look something up in the middle of a dinner party. But with a smartphone, whipping it out and quickly checking Google to settle an argument is an everyday occurrence.

So long as your customer is awake, you can now assume they have almost immediate internet access.

2. Built-in billing

Aside from always being available, by its very nature, there’s also a number of billing systems built-in to smartphones.

At the most basic, there’s the carrier bill or the prepaid credit. On top of this, there are the various app stores, as well as services such as PayPal. Unlike on the PC, a purchase is always potentially just a tap away.

3. Tap for customer service

Likewise, tapping on a phone number in many mobile browsers will result in a phone call being made. This means making a call is potentially part of the built-in experience of every mobile app or website, unlike when PCs dominated the internet.

So placing an order or a customer service phone call from a website is now just a tap away.

4. A location-aware personal media form

Unlike on a PC, where people often shared a device or even an account, the smartphone is a strictly personal media form.

Smartphones, by their very nature, are also location aware. Even the most basic of ‘90s 2G feature phones had to know which cell tower it was connected to at any given moment. This ability to target consumers by location at all times just wasn’t there in the days when most people relied on a desktop PC. It is on a mobile.

5. Incredibly accurate audience information

The combination of the mobile as a strictly personal media form and information about the location and context of media that is being consumed means smartphones can produce the most accurate audience information of any media form in history.

TV ratings or newspaper readership (the number of people to read a paper, rather than the number of copies circulated) was always a best guess effort. Smartphone analytics tell you the precise number, location, device type and time your customers view your content. And all in real time.

Massive opportunities

As a result of the ubiquity of the smartphone – and recent ACMA figures show 12.07 million Australians now own a smartphone – it can now almost be assumed that anyone accessing the internet also has access to all the functionality of the internet on a mobile device.

So here’s a question: Is your web presence built for the old PC-first internet in mind? Or do you have mobile (or responsive) websites and apps that take advantage of the mobile-first internet?

If you don’t have a mobile- first strategy, there are a range of opportunities your business is missing out on.

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Andrew Sadauskas is a former journalist at SmartCompany and a former editor of TechCompany.

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