May 2, 2013
By Dave Sikora
It is interesting to follow the raging holy war surrounding mobile Web versus native applications.
On the one hand, mobile Web makes so much sense – everyone is accustomed to the browser navigational model, and everything is headed into the cloud, including apps.
Why not put all apps in the cloud? Why not make the mobile device a quasi-dumb terminal attached to the cloud, with everything accessible from a mobile browser? So why not apply the usage model of the Web to mobile?
On the other hand, mobile is not the Web. It is different and the engagement model must take into account the different use cases.
Hammer and fickle
The Web was essentially designed to support stationary use cases and does not contemplate the requirements of people who move around or the time pressures these consumers face.
Take Uber as an example. Without mobile, this company does not exist.
Uber has made it effortless to order up a black car, taking into account the contextual requirements of the mobile consumer including time sensitivity, location and convenience.
It misses the point to try and use Uber from a desktop or laptop computer – it is not just mobile-first, it is mobile-only.
This begs the question of "why do we instinctively apply comfortable ways of doing things when completely new methodologies are introduced?"
Why do we insist on looking at the New World with the Old World lens?
Let us borrow an insight from Maslow's famous "Law of the Hammer," which generally states that "If you're a hammer, everything looks like a nail."
If you have been hammering nails for the last 15 years and someone showed you a screw without showing you a screwdriver, would you not first try to crush the screw with a hammer?
It looks like a nail, but at some point you would realize that it has a different value proposition than a nail, and the day you realize that you have to "turn it" to take advantage of that value is your Aha moment. It is the day you "found your Uber.”
Recently, I have come across so many retailers who built their "native" mobile apps as a very small wrapper around their mobile Web experience.
This was highly practical and cost-effective: Why have different checkout experiences for the mobile Web site and the mobile app?
Testing two flows is expensive and tedious. And the Web already solved for every engagement opportunity you would ever need, right?
Mobile is just a smaller screen access point to all these wonderful engagement opportunities, right?
Sadly, my company made the mistake of helping retailers go in this direction, although convincing retailers, who operate on razor-thin margins, to build out in both directions was futile.
Finding native iOS and Android developers is really expensive and this approach seemed to solve multiple problems.
What does this "wrapper" approach buy you? Cost savings, that is about it.
Your customers get an experience that is wholly un-differentiated from your mobile Web site. They will download your native branded app – at least everyone inside your company thought it was native because the app had to be downloaded – and realize that everything they can do with it can be done from the mobile Web site.
Hence, transaction volume will be low, and a strong business case will be made for ditching the native app and focusing on the mobile Web experience.
This is no different from "hammering a screw." It is wrong, wrong, wrong.
Back to Uber.
It is an entire business that is delivered on the mobile platform with an elegant architecture that leverages the best of the mobile device and the cloud.
It leverages the local storage of the device to store customer and payment credentials.
Because of this, the app uses connectivity surgically during the business process, minimizing round-trips to accomplish simple tasks.
It uses the device-resident location based services. It uses the cloud to "process orders."
In Uber's case, this means dispatching black cars, processing payments and managing user and driver accounts. All of this delivers an amazing, utterly transformative user experience.
So, for the retailers out there, I issue a challenge: What is your Uber? What are the new consumer engagement opportunities presented by mobility that cannot be accomplished any other way?
Are you still hammering screws with your Web-based hammer?
Dave Sikora is CEO of Digby, Austin, TX. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.