Mobile First Companies Tend to Neglect the Web

2 mins read
January 31, 2012

Angel investor and long time entrepreneur Mark Suster talks about how companies who have been focusing on the mobile-first strategy, as described by Fred Wilson over a year ago, are forgetting the second part of Wilson’s advice which is web second.

Mobile is without question an important part of the future of consumer technology. Everything seems to be going mobile in the last few years with companies like Instagram and Square, and that is evidenced by the skyrocketing number of smartphones sold in the past few years. The web however, is capable of offering more simply by being larger, more flexible, more comprehensive. Companies focusing on mobile first unfortunately tend to forget about the web’s capabilities.

Mobile first is a sound strategy but there are things, experiences, and features that mobile simply cannot deliver. His example of Pinterest serves as a good one. Instagram’s and Path’s lack of web interface to manage content away from mobile is also an example of apparent foresight that would have otherwise enriched the experience of having signed up to such services.

The full web experience has so much richer capabilities over mobile interfaces that it simply should not be ignored. Suster’s example of text messaging services that have no web interfaces is perfect.

Why let your text messages be tied down to your mobile device? If you lose that device, you’ll lose your messages. Apple’s iMessage goes half way to fix that by allowing other devices to mirror your messages when signed to the same account. However, a cloud service to back that up and make it accessible to you from just about anywhere with Internet access could offer much more. Apple’s iCloud could offer some sort of access to iMessage.

Bigger companies though, seem to prefer the web first approach. Facebook seems to understand this better than anyone at the moment. It has killer mobile apps and its mobile websites are almost on equal standing on different platforms but its web services offer a lot more.

Twitter is almost on the same boat. Its website and mobile apps offer nearly identical services but the website is organized in a way that is easier to interact with. Although, while Twitter began as a mobile service, it has lately introduced and implemented features and changes on the web first before bringing them to mobile.

Google announced its mobile first approach in February 2010 at Mobile World Congress, back in the days of CEO Eric Schmidt. While Google embraces mobile just as any other major web company should (Android said hi), its services are primarily web-based with mobile apps or mobile web apps serving as clients or stripped down substitutes to the full version. This has yet to change under Larry Page.

A lot of Indonesian technology-oriented companies are also still employing web first strategy. Tiket.com for example, launched its mobile site after the full website was launched. Mindtalk, a social sharing site run by former Kaskus CMO Danny Oei, is still working on its mobile site and apps after the website was launched last year. Lintas.me, a social news site, just completed its redesign and launched the website before the mobile site was completed. Both Lintas and Mindtalk are part of the group that houses DailySocial.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with web first when you realize that the web is much more capable and visible compared to mobile. Certain sites and services are best suited to mobile while others are best accessed from a desktop browser.

It’s just that the kind of personal intimacy that people have with their mobile devices should not be ignored and seeing that there are more mobile users in Indonesia as opposed to users of traditional computers, it might seem strange to focus on the web first.

Regardless, the web offers much more than mobile apps or mobile websites could and because of that, it should not be neglected. Delivering mobile applications may seem to be the hot thing to do right now but having the full power of the web hand in hand with a mobile service would make it a much more compelling offering.

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