Thinking Holistically Beyond the Smart Phone

When you think of a smart phone or when someone tells you about multi-channel delivery, chances are that you are visualizing a cell phone, a PDA, or at the maximum, a tablet such as an iPad or Samsung's Tab.

Less obvious are the myriad non-PC devices that can access websites today, including mobile phones of various sizes and capabilities, eReaders, Netbooks, and IPTV devices. Some specific examples include:

  • Delivering content on TV screens via NetFlix
  • Gaming consoles such as WII or PlayStation
  • Non-traditional, non-browser clients such as TweetDeck on your Laptop, or the Facebook app on your mobile phone
  • Linux-based based handheld carried by doctors, for receiving streamed patient data

Of course, even within each of the above, you'll find variability within each category. There are variations based on features (such as availability of a camera), form factor, screen resolution, input capabilities (e.g., touch vs. keypad), or even context (such as whether the person holds her tablet horizontally or vertically). 

So whether a mobile phone or one of the platforms mentioned above, you need to be able to first identify the device and then based on its capabilities as well as limitations, target the right content without compromising the user experience.

Now, in order to provide a first-class user experience on such devices, many enterprises prefer to offer native apps. That's certainly a good option but you can easily see it doesn't scale easily to support multiple platforms. There are a couple problems here:

  1. Device manufacturers each support their own SDKs and APIs
  2. End users typically place a limit to the number of apps they load on their device

The other option -- creating a simple style sheet or theme -- is too simplistic to be of much use in such scenarios because of the need to provide the lowest common experience.

This is why my colleague Adriaan Bloem makes the case for investing in a flexible mobile web platform instead of building apps for each device individually.

The key arguments in favor of using native apps instead of web apps for mobile devices are:

  1. Mobile browsers don't yet provide an equivalent user experience
  2. You cannot access certain mobile-specific capabilities -- such as GPS support, so  you can stream a list of restaurants around person's current location

However, with advancements in HTML and JavaScript, many of these concerns are beginning to subside. For example, HTML5 provides capabilities to identify your location, and when combined with libraries such as jQuery, can provide a much more comparable user experience. When used in conjunction with a mobile platform that has the intelligence to identify variations and perform heavy-duty rule processing for content targeting based on those variations, you now have a good foundation for a more inclusive strategy. This will allow you to serve customers that use not just "smarter" smart phones like iPhones and Blackberries, but also those customers that use other, not-so smart-devices.

We've been spending more time looking at this from a vendor-capabilities perspective.  For more details on how different products fare when it comes to multi-channel content management and delivery, you can subscribe to our evaluation research.

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