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Mobile ‘Optimized’ Startup Product Is A Gaali

“We have optimized our site for mobile”

“Our site is mobile friendly”

“We have a responsive site so it works on mobile too”

Guys, mobile ‘optimized‘ is a gaali in todays scenario! 

I would save you the effort of reading the entire post and put it right up here – Today you (better) make a site for mobile and then stretch it to fit the desktop. So here is the long story and the stats that has made me so impolite about anyone failing to understand the impact of mobile. 

When we started building PriceBaba in 2012, someone told us to see Twitter Bootstrap. Ignoring it as yet another ‘cool technology’ by ‘cool dudes’ I didn’t see into it. Until another very good techie friend mentioned it and asked us to look at it. Long story short, without much understanding, we choose to go with a responsive framework called Zurb Foundation. Little did we know what mobile optimized / mobile first meant at that time. The convenience of not having to hire a designer to make the site was good enough to go ahead with a framework, looking back, it seems like a masterstroke. 

Today, 51% of our 1.8 million monthly visitors use a mobile browser to access Desktop has fallen to 47% (rest is tablets). Not only building another dedicated mobile site would have been a pain for us, we wouldn’t even be able to serve a full PriceBaba experience that way. We have seen mobile rise from 25+% to over 50% in the last 12 months. There is no doubt that this year the pace would only accelerate. I would put the number at anywhere between 60% to 70% by year end. 

So here is the thought that we need to understand today. We are Dinosaurs. As a developer you grew up with desktops. You love the large screen, you love the full length keyboard and the mouse. You have a broadband connection and you can multitask like crazy. But you are a Dinosaur, because your consumer today loves that 3.5” mobile screen and does all his computing on that little screen with a poor internet connection and low processing power. You may argue that dinosaurs are powerful, but remember, they are EXTINCT

Given our upbringing, It is hard to imagine building a product for mobile. Do you create the first sketch of your interface for a mobile screen? Think – do you visualize the mobile version or the desktop version of the site? Knowing mobile is important is easy, living it is difficult. We would need to unlearn and stress how important mobile is for a long time to stay relevant. 

And your problem doesn’t solve by just having a responsive site (and just using a responsive framework doesn’t make it mobile first). While Chrome desktop is the highest used browser at the moment, Opera Mini is a close second, consumers love Opera. Imaging no jQuery, no Ajax and no fancy drop downs on your web site. If the web page hasn’t loaded fully, you can’t click any link on the page. Yo! so you know what we are dealing with right now. 

For lower end phones and browser, the unsexy truth is that you WILL need to create a mobile site from scratch. For the Blackberries and Symbians of the world, you will also need a much more stripped version of your service, that’s a third version. So while starting with responsive would make your live easy to cater to a lot of smartphones, it WON’T work for a vast majority of mobile users in India (heck! it doesn’t even work well on the Android bestseller Samsung Galaxy Y).

Content sites here have a somewhat easier life, but the moment you say product, Mobile is a tricky and the only domain you are playing in. 

PS: Mobile web vs Mobile app is a separate debate. We shall keep that for another day, deal? 

I ended up offending some of my developer friends in Baroda earlier this year while calling them a Dinosaurs, but I would rather be the rude wakeup call than let you go Extinct 😉 Happy to discuss and debate this topic, I am @annkur on Twitter. 

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  1. Hi Ankur,

    Thanks a lot for the post. But I think you skipped some part.

    1. Was the decision to use Zurb Foundation a good one or a bad one? Any other frameworks that you think you should have used if not this? Foundation does not use any Jquery or Ajax AFAIK and fairly goes with ‘mobile first’ way. 

    2. What did you do to overcome this challenge, when you came to know the truth?

  2. Thanks!

    I purposely skipped the technical parts. The idea is to focus on how important and complex mobile can be. There can’t be one good technology and one solution for everyone. 

    Specific to why we choose Zurb, honestly my co-founder TG knows better. What we are doing to solve the Opera Mini issue, we are doing what I said, a dedicated mobile site too. 

    ps: the default menu drop down in the header (for Zurb)would break on Opera Mini. And a lot of application features do use these technologies, I am not blaming it on the framework, but your product would need different treatment on Opera. You need to know that and I just alerted 🙂

  3. Listened to Annkur on this topic at WordCamp Baroda and it is truly an eye opener. Changes the way I look at the things now. 

    As for Zurb Foundation v/s other frameworks, technical side apart, I think zurb foundation will win in the long run.


    1. Twitter bootstrap is created by Mark Dotto and one other guy. Guess what? Mark was working at Zurb before he joined twitter and created bootstrap. Mark continues to maintain it but he no longer works at twitter (moved to github). Imho, even though bootstrap is more popular, it might miss it’s purpose going forward.
    2. Foundation on the other hand is created by the company who cares about every thing web design, they continue to innovate (look at university, apps, library) and invest in things that define how a “web design should be”. (For example how many companies cared about how your email templatewould look in every device?) The company exists since 15 years and their vision is strong, keeps going in the clear direction. Apart from foundation, they have created several other resources that is very very helpful in creating a website/app as per current best practices. 
    3. The main thing I am considering here is future. As trends change, we will need to adapt new things. I don’t know others but I am sure zurb will be among the first to adapt those changes. At that time, I will have less trouble upgrading the codebase instead of rewriting the entire code. 

    So the reason I am going after foundation is because of the company and people behind it. I am sure they will be there when the next change comes up. 

    I wish to have recognized this before 2 years. Better late then never though.

  4. Useful Insight…

    would love to read Mobile Web Vs Mobile App ……..Hope you blog it soon

  5. Brilliant.  “Build for mobile first and then stretch it to desktop”.  That says it all. 🙂

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