As seen on

Mobile Marketers: Why Device Detection Delivers Competitive Edge

Topic: Mobile Marketing | Author: Ronan Cremin | Date: September 6, 2011

device detectionGive your customers what they want? It’s a tall order on mobile, where marketers must navigate an increasingly fragmented landscape and ensure they are supporting all the different ways their customers consume Web services. Ronan Cremin cuts through some of the myths about our mobile device usage and behavior to reveal what we really need to know about mobile.

* * *

Doing business on the Internet used to be so simple. If you knew for sure that your desktop website was optimized for access across all browsers, then your job was done. That was then. Now, the explosion of Internet-capable and connected devices has complicated matters. As more customers access your site from mobile devices, you have to do more to deliver a good user experience. To deliver content your customers can access and enjoy on their mobile devices you need to know what those devices are, what capabilities and features they have and — more importantly — how your customers are using them.

It’s a mammoth task, made even more complex by the existence of at least 6,500 (!) distinct and Web-capable mobile devices models. And let’s not forget the vast array of screen sizes, operating systems and capabilities.

So, how do you address such a complex and fragmented device landscape? And – better yet — why should you bother?

Mobile is massive

It may sound like a no-brainer, but we can’t stress it enough. Mobile is displacing PC. Therefore, we can no longer operate under the naive assumption that most traffic to our websites comes from PCs. In some countries mobile Web usage is not just competing with PC; it is outstripping it. This has been the case in Japan and South Africa for several years (Japan since 2005 and South Africa since 2008, to be precise). In other countries (such as the U.S.) we are near the tipping point.

In fact, The International Telecommunications Union estimates there were 940 million mobile broadband (3G) subscriptions worldwide and 555 million fixed broadband subscriptions in 2010.

But it’s not just the numbers that tell us mobile is displacing desktop as the primary means to access the Web. Internet giants are also moving into mobile at full-speed, an exodus that tells us a mobile strategy is a must.

Case in point is Google. During a February 2011 presentation, Google revealed that over 15 percent of Google searches are via mobile devices (a whopping 30 percent of searches for restaurants was done by people using mobile phones). As Google’s Director of Mobile Jason Spero pointed out, that adds up to one in seven searches. But, how many companies put one seventh of their resources into mobile? Definitely not one in seven. Jason’s  damning conclusion: Not engaging mobile customers is like “not doing business with your customers on Thursdays.”

Sure, you can choose to do nothing, and hope that your existing Internet website works on mobile. But do you really want to bet your business on it?

Better is best

Spoilt by a great Internet experience on our PCs, people have come to expect – even demand — an equally excellent Web experience on their mobile devices. People tend to lose patience (and their tempers) if they are not presented with what they want – the way they want it.

Major brands and companies need little convincing of the merits of adapting content to devices in order to deliver a good user experience to mobile customers. Check out Alexa’s top 20 Websites. There some 18 out of 20 big names detect mobile devices and deliver a site that is appropriate. Some — including Facebook, Google, Yahoo and eBay  — take it even a step further, delivering a great mobile experience to ALL users of all devices, including feature phones, legacy phones and smartphones.

What do these companies have in common? They use device detection to fine-tune the user experience. Why do they go to the trouble? Because, even on smartphones, customers have a lot of hoops to jump through if they want to view a Internet website. (This extra effort is not required if a company uses device detection to make the perfect match between the user, the content and the device.)

Without device detection, the user is on their own. They have to suffer the hassle of panning and zooming to read a desktop oriented page. The have to deal with the frustration of Flash (which is still  problematic on smartphones, and non-existent on iPhones and feature phones). And they have to waste a lot of time just waiting for the all-singing, all-dancing version of the Internet (translated: desktop oriented) website to load and display on their device.

Size does (not) matter

devicesOn first glance, the Google home page may look similar no matter if you view it on a PC, a tablet, a smartphone or an ordinary feature phone. But that’s only because Google has meticulously architected a comprehensive mobile strategy designed to delight all of its customers everywhere on the planet.

Other companies — such as Tripadvisor and — understand that mobile isn’t about squeezing desktop websites into smaller displays. Mobile is about lifestyle and context.

Put another way, it’s about providing people precisely what they need to do what they need to do. We may want everything at our finger tips when we are booking a room or a flight from the comfort of our PC, where a big screen and keyboard mean we can while away hours searching, planning and inputting all the details (more than once!).

But on mobile the context (and immediacy) changes all the rules. People don’t want access to everything, they want to accomplish a single task and will gravitate to the sites that let them do it quickly, easily and without the hassle of zooming, panning or just waiting.

Device detection

This is why device detection is moving up the list of mobile must-have’s.

Device detection allows companies to query the capabilities of each device accessing their Website. But it’s not just about accuracy. That’s table stakes. Good device detection is also fast, and it should be possible for your site to identify at least 100,000 handsets per second. This device information allows the site to make decisions about how best to format the content before sending it to the user.

Once you know the make and model of the user’s device accessing your website at that moment, then you can make smarter choices about the appropriate services, promotions and advertising to deliver.  After all, it makes no sense to deliver advertising that includes mobile video to a handset that doesn’t support it. Knowing what to deliver (and what not) helps to ensure a seamless (and more enjoyable) user experience with fewer disappointments.

Device detection is also key when it comes to planning and investment. If you find that half  of the mobile traffic to your site is coming from low-end phones, then it’s high time to stop worrying about whether or not to cater to iPhone users and start thinking about developing a leaner version of your site to support basic handsets.

Finally, device detection gives you a view into what you can and can’t do to improve the user experience. Does the device supports click-to-call? Then make sure to take advantage of this functionality so the user can click to dial numbers that appear on the page. Does the device have GPS? Then make sure the user’s location is communicated via GPS, rather than forcing people to fill in a form stating their location. Does the device have a touch-screen? Then adapt your CSS to ensure that items are big enough to be tapped with a finger tip.

At the end of the day, device detection is the way to give your customers what they want — without them having to ask for it. (You also don’t risk losing them altogether if they end up at the receiving end of a bad user experience.)

App shortcomings

“And what about apps?” — I hear you ask.

This is not an app vs. mobile Web debate. If you know for certain that all your customers use iPhones (and will continue for the foreseeable future), then go ahead and make an iPhone app. (But if you know that with 100-percent certainty, then you should also get in contact with me to pick some horses in the next Ascot!)

However, a true mobile strategy is mobile-focused and embraces all of the mobile devices out there. Thus, a mobile app is not a mobile strategy, regardless of how many different platforms you choose to target. (A discussion of the complex mobile ecosystems and the vast differences between app submission and approval procedures is beyond the scope of this column.)

What’s more, apps only work if users download them, install them — and find them in the first place (!). This assumes that you have the branding, marketing and social media savvy to get the word out that you have an app, and what it takes to rise above the dozens (even thousands) of apps in your category.

Consider your options and it’s clear that a truly mobile strategy is the most effective way to achieve positive results (and deliver all users everywhere a good experience). Against this backdrop, device detection is not just essential to developing your mobile strategy. It’s also the only way to maintain it. Device fragmentation is an issue we must all face now because the market shows no signs of slowing.

Indeed, the advance mobile and the variety of devices means there is no end to the devices we can choose to use: feature phones, smartphones, small tablets, big tablets, netbooks, laptops, desktops and personal navigation devices. ‘Connected’ is fast becoming our new default state of being, and marketers that can cater to our always-on lifestyles will surely clinch the deal.

About Ronan

RonanCremin-dotmobiRonan Cremin is VP of dotMobi’s engineering initiatives, where he oversees the development of dotMobi’s portfolio of mobile Web products, including DeviceAtlas — a solution used by companies in over 130 countries, including 8 percent of the Fortune 100 — to power device detection for their mobile sites. DeviceAtlas detects over 1 trillion mobile devices each month.

Editor’s note: In July 2011 dotMobi released the new version of its award-winning DeviceAtlas. See mobiThinking for more details on device detection.

Be heard! Reach an audience of 20,000+ mobile professionals and practitioners.

MobileGroove is accepting guest columns. Email us to find out more.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *