Smartphones and corporate websites, a required match

If I remember correctly, not long after the original Apple iPhone went on sale The New York Times ran a story indicating surprise that a relatively large number of poorer people were buying the expensive phone. After some pondering, the Times concluded that the cost of the iPhone was actually small when compared to a personal computer and Internet service. The iPhone was a way that people who could not otherwise afford to be on the Internet could get reliable, reasonable speed, access for not much more per month than they were already paying for their current cellphones.

Now the Pew Internet and American Life Project has published a survey that shows the datapoint seen by the Times about four years ago is now part of a trend. A trend that may wind up having quite an impact on what enterprises need to keep in mind when developing their Internet presence.

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The Pew report, "Smartphone Adoption and Usage," was aimed at finding out how popular smartphones have become and to develop a profile of who uses them. The results showed that 2 in 5 of the 85% of U.S. adults who have some kind of mobile phone have a smartphone. Most of the smartphone users (87%) use them for their intended purposes -- accessing the Internet and reading email. Smartphone ownership is about the same for men as for women, higher for people under 50 than over, lower for people in households with an annual income of under $30,000 and higher where the household income was above $75,000.

The more important statistic is that about a quarter of smartphone users depend on the smartphone for most of their Internet access rather than a "real" computer at home. Twice as many (percentage wise) younger (under 30) smartphone users depend on their smartphone for Internet access than do older users. The Pew report makes it clear that the movement to smartphones as a major or primary Internet access method is a broad one that covers a large part of the U.S. Internet user community.

The Pew report did not ask about the use of tablet computers, like iPads, as people's primary Internet access mechanism, but I would suspect that the number of people who do that is rising quickly.

Enterprises need to keep this trend of using smaller-format devices for primary Internet access when designing their corporate websites. Both the outward-facing sites and the employee-only sites need to be usable though small-format devices, and devices that do not all support Flash.

These are not things that most enterprises have paid much attention to.

Enterprises that ignore this trend will lose out to competitors that enable customers to interact using the devices the customers want to use rather than blocking them.

Making a website usable on a smartphone or a tablet is not all that hard to do but making a website that people actually want to use is a lot harder, judging by what passes for the smartphone user experience on too many sites. So, if you have not already done so it is past time to start.

Disclaimer: iPads are popular at Harvard but I do not manage Harvard's rather many websites (assuming anyone does it would be an error) so the above advice is just mine and does not reflect any Harvard program.

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This story, "Smartphones and corporate websites, a required match" was originally published by Network World.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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