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Mobile Friendly or Mobile First? Why the Small Screen is Now King

Written by Christian Abbatecola

A slowing smartphone projecting logos of popular websites and apps.
By now most web developers and website owners understand the need to build websites for a mobile audience.
Over 75% of US adults say they own a smartphone, and the devices are exceptionally popular in the developing world. If you want your website to succeed, it’s obvious that it needs to be mobile-friendly, but has the time come to take the next step and focus on your mobile site first and worry about desktops second?

Here are a few reasons that  it’s no longer enough to merely have a website that you’ve optimized for mobile,  and it’s time to worry about the small screen before the big one.

The Mobile Web is Becoming the Default Web

When smartphones first debuted they were a novelty, but that has rapidly changed. Today, not only are smartphones abundantly popular, they’re the most popular way to access the web.

  • Nearly half of US seniors own a smartphone
  • 64% of low-income households own a smartphone
  • 12% of US adults have already ditched the desktop
  • An estimated 2.87 billion people will have smartphones by 2020
  • Mobile web use now outranks desktop use

See the picture? In a matter of years, smartphones have become more popular than traditional computers, and mobile devices have become the most common way to access the web. If you’re not designing for mobile, you’re not designing for most users.

Mobile is Easier to Scale

Whether you’re building a brand new website or redesigning an old one, you need to consider what your website is going to look like to your users. While smartphone screens seem to keep getting bigger, the simple fact is they are still much smaller than laptop and desktop monitors. Trying to crunch all of the functionality of a robust, data-filled desktop site down into a small-screen form factor can result in a cramped design that no mobile user will enjoy.

If, however, you build for the mobile user first, you’ll have a website that will work well on the small screen and can easily be enlarged to fit desktop users. It’s much easier to enlarge a small design than to shrink a large one if you want your site to be functional for all your users.

You can add more graphics or features as you scale up if desired, but when building the framework of your website you’ll serve most of your users best by thinking small.

Mobile Helps You Decide What Matters

For all the popularity of smartphones, the fact is their small form factor and touch-based interface makes them a little tougher for developers to work with. You don’t get as much screen real estate to play with, and what you do have needs to be easy for users to navigate with their comparatively large fingers instead of the precise mouse cursor.

All of those factors add up to mean you’ll need to think really hard about what’s important. You may have a wealth of information to convey to your users, but you need to decide what they should see first, without scrolling or digging too hard, because that’s what’s going to appear on your mobile site. The core focus of your business becomes abundantly clear when you’re constrained by the size of a handheld screen.

Desktop sites do still matter, but if you’re still looking at mobile functionality as an afterthought than you’re behind the times. To succeed on the modern web, you’ll need to catch up with your increasingly mobile audience.

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