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Is "Mobile First" Hype in 2019?

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Over the past decade, there's a phrase that's been coming up a lot, and had a lot of discussion around it. That is, mobile first. But what exactly does it mean and is it important? Is there a lot of hype around it? Is it useful hype? That's what we're going to talk about today. 

A little context...

In 2009, Luke Wroblewski wrote an article where he made a case for designing for mobile first, instead of just desktop screens—coining the term mobile first. Now it's important to note that Luke said, "Mobile refers to the user, not to the device or application." There were three main points in the article arguing for mobile first. 

1. "Mobile is exploding" 

According to statista.com back in 2009 when the article was first written, smartphone sales worldwide totaled 170 million. Now fast-forward to 2019 and smartphone sales worldwide are projected to be past 2.7 billion. 

 2. "Mobile forces you to focus." 

There's not a lot of size on a mobile screen, so you really have to zero in on the data and functionality that you want your users to experience. 

 3. "Mobile extends your capabilities." 

Mobile devices give you access to things like GPS location data, touch gestures, accelerometer data. Tech that really wasn't available on desktops and laptops in 2009 when the article was written. 

So why are we still talking about Mobile First nine years later?

You might remember this discussion cropping up again at the company you were working at. That's because Google announced in 2017 that it was going to do something called Mobile First Indexing. Basically giving priority to websites that had mobile-friendly designs in it's ranking algorithm. A lot of companies had to take an honest look at their own websites and ask, "are we actually mobile friendly?"

The points that Luke made in his original article still hold weight today.

In 2015 it was recorded that were 1.4 billion smartphone sales around the world. We're projected to almost double that in 2019. Mobile is still booming, and mobile screen sizes haven't changed a lot, even though we have gotten a little bit more space, you still have to really focus in on that user set and features that are most important to your users.

So why are we calling it hype? 

There are some people that believe, mobile will take over the world in "x" number of years. Mobile definitely isn't going anywhere. If anything it's only going to keep expanding. But I don't think it's going to take over every computing task either. (Just try doing spreadsheet intensive work on your smartphone).

Also, if you look back at the context of the original article written by Luke, back then mobile was gaining lots of popularity and the internet wasn't as robust as it is now. Web technologies didn't exist then that exist now—for example, HTML5 and CSS3 weren't standard. Also, mobile back then kind of had a monopoly on things like GPS locations and multi-touch gestures. Nowadays, you can really get that on any size device, including desktops.

But, it is good to point out that there are things that don't work great on mobile but work on desktops, like hover states. It's also important to note that the list of technical differences between mobile and desktops or PCs is really shrinking, to the point where users almost expect to have the same kind of functionality and experiences on their mobile device as well as on their desktop.

What is a company to do? 

Let's just go back to the original meaning by Wroblewski. You remember he said, "Mobile refers to the user, not to the device or application." So, cut through the hype by focusing on your users' needs. Determine what it is they need to do with your application and then make it easier for them to do it, no matter where they access it from. 

Written By

James Taylor

A tutorial addict and user research junkie, James is the UX Design Manager at SolutionStream. A user experience nerd at heart, he's also a hobby developer and family-video producer. Although he is constantly looking for ways to optimize and organize his work, you'll find his desk littered with sticky notes, Star Wars figures, and pictures of his beautiful wife and 2 kids.

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