Mobile Fragmentation (for the 100th time)

Yes, it’s a subject long lamented by mobile app or site developers and one which to many has been insurmountable. Getting that first one or two thousand users seems easy, but then comes the chasm.

Anyway, I’ve been in the Valley for about a year now and often find myself arguing about which types of mobile devices (and therefore users) are most important. I guess as a recent European I’ve seen some diversity. The rationale being that the iPhone (and to some extent, devices like it) have mopped up the tech-savvy high-earning subscribers and as such they are the only audience worth going after. They use the web, download apps, and have disposable income to buy stuff online.

At the other end of the spectrum are people who use the phone mostly for voice, so choose a long battery life and a small form factor. Perhaps they can’t afford a contract or to pay for the latest phone so they’ve got an entry level candy bar or a 5 year old hand-me-down.

If you’re in the Bay area it’s clear which segment is riding the Caltrain, drinking coffee in Starbucks or checking their mail at the gym – and the longer you spend here the more you come to believe that not only is this the segment you should be targeting, but actually it’s the only segment that exists.

nokia-6030So, we launched an update to our homepage for the iPhone last week – refreshing a number of key services to do this and adding richer functionality where we could. It’s designed for 240×320 touchscreen and uses the latest JavaScript and CSS3 extensions where possible. Our platform does the actual rendering so it will degrade the markup to less capable phones, but today I was reminded of the real challenge. Looking at what we need to do as we roll out a particular feature to some of our international markets I looked at the stats for India, Indonesia and Brazil. The top phones are devices like the Nokia 6030, the SonyEricsson w200a, and the closest we get to a smartphone at the top of the table is the Nokia N70. Blimey. It’s not a case of degrading our markup – the problem is that we’re trying to scale content down from a high-resolution 240×320 to a 128×128 with the processing power of a tin of paint.

These are huge markets. We see millions of page impressions from these few devices in these countries – and a long tail behind them. You can understand why google tries to bring up devices to be compatible with the *real* web, but it’s going to be a long time coming. In the meantime, it’s back to the whiteboard to address this cultural imbalance, but come on, it’s not just for emerging markets – 98% of subscribers in the US don’t have an iPhone.. yet šŸ˜‰


2 responses to this post.

  1. Unexpected but refreshing knowledge coming from the valley. Have a look at the where we try to discuss this matter.
    Best from Aage


  2. Posted by Martin on August 5, 2009 at 1:55 am

    Having developed and sold on the fly Web adaptation for the last few years its a problem I’m well acquainted with. We were seeing a lot of traction a couple of years ago, but since the iPhone explosion many of the OpCo’s in the “west” seem to have forgotten about the rest of the market and are busy chasing the high end customer. Yet when Web sites put the effort in to tailor their offering for these devices the take up and use from India and the is high.


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