I can get pretty worked up about digital and mobile. And about cycling too! So when we get on to talking about ‘Tour de France’ mobile apps I’m there with bells on.
Below is a response I wrote in August 2011 basically bemoaning that year’s TdF app, highlighting that it simply repurposed desktop content into an app albeit it in a half decent way. By all means read it but to sum up I wanted to suggest how I thought the app could and should be better by understanding what it really means to be ‘mobile’. I came up with an idea of driving users into bike shops with some idea of a simple partnership business model allowing everyone to win – the stores, the consumer and the main brand sponsor. My idea and the model are not really important – it was just an off the top of my head suggestion. My main point was one that could be summed up (in the quite catchy phrase I hope you’ll agree) as the difference between ‘merely mobile and truly mobile’.
We’re all pretty tired of seeing those stats slides rolled out as part of countless presentations around the world detailing the numbers of mobile users there are now and the percentage of web traffic that runs over small screens. (At least I think we’ve now had ‘The Year of Mobile’ haven’t we?)
Getting serious about mobile means grasping the difference I coined above – understanding what transforms something from merely mobile to truly mobile.
To do this we must consider the following:
Context – how and when is the user using the mobile app / site? What unique or persistent needs might they have at that point? What can / should the app deliver for the best possible contextualized experience?
Location – perhaps the most obvious but not necessarily most important aspect of the above. We must ask ourselves what does ‘where they are’ offer us in terms of being ultra relevant.
Cutting the crap – ask yourselves, ‘what information and stuff could the user do without at this point?’ – your brand’s board members might be half interesting to a few people but save it for the desktop site (probably).
Utility – how can we move from information and content to something that really provides usefulness. What would be ‘great’ for the user right there at that moment?
Responsive design is now almost a hygiene factor although you wouldn’t necessarily know that from looking at some sites. And it’s important – don’t get me wrong but I think focusing on it can be a hindrance. It, almost by definition, gets people in the mindset of taking all of what’s there and making it accessible via a small screen. A might better approach might be starting from scratch and staring from the bullet points above: Where are they? What are they doing? What would they want to know right now and how can we make something useful?
As I mentioned above the reply (below) was written three and a half years ago and despite all those stats slides and mobile’s importance being drummed into us I don’t see that much truly mobile stuff as opposed to simply being merely mobile.
I had the Tour de France app running on my iPhone in July. And I have used the live timing screen on the Formula One website for some years now. My question is: are these apps that we have now really mobile? That’s not meant to sound as stupid as it might do! Of course they are mobile. In one sense at least. And great apps they are too whilst, at the same time, being little more (in most cases) than existing content repurposed for mobile devices. The TDF app was, as I mentioned, great but did nothing over and above the ‘web’ content other than make it available on a small screen and handy when a laptop or desktop was not to hand. And it was sponsored by Skoda wasn’t it? – an ad campaign totally lost on me.
Isn’t the really power of mobile – the time when apps become truly mobile – when they know where you are and what you are doing? Isn’t this when mobile advertising tips into something truly game changing and disruptive?
Imagine that Tour de France app. Instead of just having a Skoda screen on startup (the same screen for everyone everywhere in the world regardless of age, location, interests etc) what if it alerted me to a cool bike shop as I walked by telling me about some great offer on a bike and that they were showing Le Tour on TV? In other words the app contextualised my interest and my location and gave me something useful and potentially really relevant and engaging. So, instead of a one off fee with Skoda (let’s ignore the broader advertising deal for now) the app developers had invited hundreds of thousands of bike shops all over the world to partner with them in handing over 5 bucks for every punter they drove into a store brandishing a code that got them 10% off stuff. Isn’t this the sort of thing that will be the future?
This feel likes the future of mobile advertising. When apps become truly mobile in their ability to understand and contextualise people’s situations and behaviour. The difference, if you like, between a truly mobile app and an app that is merely mobile.