Why the Mobile Wars Matter for Marketers (Or Don’t)

The following is a post from Mike Faley, TIG Global Web Marketing Analyst.

Since the iPhone launched in June 2007, the mobile web experience has been in constant evolution. Web developers have struggled to optimize their websites for mobile browsing, marketers have wrestled with evolving standards and practices, and everyone has been watching to see what device (or devices) would ultimately come to define the experience of surfing the web in transit. Since 2007, two new players have thrown their hats into the ring: Google, with its Android platform, has experienced a meteoric rise in mobile market share and mobile internet traffic, and Windows, with its Windows Phone 7 platform, who was a wee-bit late to the party and only launched towards the end of last year. And who can forget RIM and their Blackberry platform? A lot of people, apparently – RIM has lost significant market share in the last few years and today accounts for only 0.57% of all browsing on the internet.

For the purposes of this discussion, we will focus on the two big players – Google and Apple – and what their battle for mobile browsing dominance will mean to the web marketing landscape. “Who cares?” I can hear you asking. I’m glad you asked.

Opposing Mobile Standards
Standards are the defining element that will determine whether Apple or Google become the king of the hill in the mobile space. We already saw the first stones thrown in 2010, when Apple came out swinging with a blow to the Android platform by declaring that Adobe Flash (a major component of desktop-class web browsing) would not only be absent by default in all iOS devices (iPhone, iPad, iPod), but would actively disallow Adobe Flash from establishing a presence on iOS. Shortly thereafter, Apple’s Steve Jobs posted a lengthy diatribe on Apple.com, explaining, in short, that Flash wasn’t good enough for iOS. Why? Well, simply put, Apple likes to manage and maintain control of all facets of the inner-workings of its products, and the inclusion of Flash would mean a third-party would be calling some of the shots.

Meanwhile, modern Android devices support the full Flash experience – however, the keyword there is “modern.” While Google loves to tout an “open” ecosystem for its Android devices – meaning, they will not actively disallow third-parties from contributing to the Android experience — not all Android devices are created equal. Due to “fragmentation” – or, different capabilities between similar products – it is up to the end-user to find out if their particular Android device is capable of supporting Flash. You can be certain there will be many of these discrepancies between Apple and Google in the future that will further widen the gap between these two products.

Platform Peacemaker
In spite of these differences, there is a ray of hope – HTML5, the latest version of the language most of the web is written – is currently supported by both Apple and Google. Safe money is on this standard being used on all platforms in the coming future (including the PC and Mac).

Crafting a Safe Strategy
So, how can web developers and marketers prepare for a landscape crafted by two companies with such competing ideologies and product support? Google and Apple essentially have the same footprint in mobile browsing at the moment, with 2.6% and 2.9%, respectively, of all internet traffic , so to try to cater to one product line and not the other would not only be an unsafe bet, but it would actively leave almost half of all mobile browsing unsupported. My advice is to focus on the channels that both products support – search and HTML (or, web-based mobile sites that do not use plug-ins).

Google and Apple may have conflicting views on the future of the mobile web, but neither will stop supporting search or web browsing – ever. Mobile search and mobile sites are increasingly important – especially in hospitality – because they are supported on every major mobile platform, they will not unpredictably become unusable because of a new product or executive decision, and because, month over month, we are seeing mobile traffic increase across the board. A focus on mobile search and mobile sites means no matter who comes out on top in the mobile wars, you will be future-proof – that is, until SkyNet takes over, but that’s a story for another day.

What mobile platform are you currently using? What do you see as the future of your mobile strategy? Are you “Team iPhone” or “Team Android?” Weigh in with your thoughts in the comments section.

Interested in ramping up your online strategy? Check out the full suite of TIG Global interactive marketing tools, send us an email, or give us a call +1 301.841.4700(US) | +44 (0)20 3004 9468(UK).

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