The Postdesktop Mobile Web: Where Context is Queen

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There is little room for debate: The introduction of the iPad has changed the computing environment irrevocably. It's a device that is rapidly breaking down the barriers between the traditional desktops, laptops, and mobile devices and significantly impacting how-and where-consumers access information. As a consequence, another trend is also emerging: the move from the wide-open web to semi-closed platforms that use the internet for transport but not the browser for display.

"It's driven primarily by the rise of the iPhone model of mobile computing, and it's a world Google can't crawl and one where HTML doesn't rule," says Chad Lieberman, digital media specialist with 5W Public Relations in New York. Consumers are increasingly choosing this world, he says, not because they're rejecting the idea of the web but because these dedicated platforms often just work better or fit better into their lives. "The fact that it's easier for companies to make money on these platforms only cements the trend," he says.

The proliferation of apps has been one of the first outcomes of this shift. According to Forrester, activity in this area has exploded in the past 24 months. Apple has 350,000 apps, and Android counters with more than 150,000. Forrester estimates that the revenue from paid applications on smartphones and tablets was $2.2 billion worldwide for 2010. Cell phones and apps have both been around for years, so why the sudden interest? A number of reasons, Forrester suggests, but one key driver has been the ability to add context to content.

Peggy Anne Salz is chief analyst and founder of MSearchGroove (MSG), a firm that produces and markets thought leadership for the mobile industry. There's a great deal of "app versus web" discussion right now, says Salz, but she doesn't see this as an either/or proposition. She says there are some definite distinctions between what makes sense for an app and what makes sense for the web.

With an ever-growing list of mobile devices such as tablets and web-connected e-readers, the challenges of preparing for the post-desktop web increase. Organizations not only have to think about mobile-optimized sites, but they also need to provide context for their users. It can be a daunting task. Those who are already moving in this direction and the service providers who offer the tools to make it happen note that the basic principles of communication remain the same-understanding user needs and delivering the most appropriate experience to meet those needs, regardless of the device or platform they're on.

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