Andrew Walmsley on Digital: What the smart money is on

Smartphones sales are booming, so why haven't brands optimised their sites for the mobile web?

I predicted this 12 months ago. Just three years after its initial release, Google's Android has overtaken Nokia's Symbian to become the world's biggest-selling operating system (OS) for smartphones.

Of the 101m smartphones shipped in the fourth quarter of 2010, 33m had Android installed (double the number in 2009). This level of accelerated growth is astonishing.

It's driven by two key factors. First, Google gives handset manufacturers Android for free; second, it's not tied to an individual handset brand. Google makes its money from search and allied activity on the phone.

In contrast, handsets manufactured by Apple and Nokia are tied in to their own OS which is paid for every time a handset is purchased.

With more than a third of adults in the UK owning a smartphone, you would expect firms with an online retail presence to have mobile websites ready to tap into this wealthy and active market, right? Wrong.

Using an Android-powered HTC smartphone as my test handset, I discovered that just a quarter of the top 50 online retailers have optimised their websites for mobile delivery.

Of those, apparel retailers have reacted quicker than most. Next, ASOS and Marks & Spencer automatically redirect smartphone users to a mobile-optimised site. Next and M&S also provide users with a clickable phone number at the bottom of the page to speak to a sales assistant. However, both are 0844/5 numbers, which can be more expensive if dialled from a mobile phone.

What is surprising is how few travel-related sites are optimised for mobile. Ryanair and easyJet take users to their main website, while bmi doesn't even scan your browser to take you automatically to your country site. Among UK airlines, BA leads the way with a well-optimised mobile website that's seemingly been designed for customers equipped with a BlackBerry device or similar.

In the budget hotel market, you'd expect mobile sites to be well-placed to grab last-minute business travellers. Yet Travelodge doesn't have a mobile website, while competitor Premier Inn recommends that you download an app instead. This app is not available on the Android marketplace, and so brings up several ominous-sounding security messages which are rather off-putting.

None of the major banks offers a mobile site and, surprisingly, of the big four supermarkets only Morrisons has one. Strangely, Apple, Nokia, Motorola and HTC are far too busy selling smartphones to actually bother creating a mobile site, leaving only Samsung to lead the charge.

Now this lack of attention to the mobile web may well be due to the focus on the apps market on smartphones over the past two years.

However, very few of the 200,000 or so apps currently available for iPhone users have achieved any breakthrough of note. More importantly, few deliver any value that could not be presented in a mobile website without all the adoption barriers that a download represents. Apps don't provide instant access to content for consumers and, on average, only eight or nine apps are retained by users on their handset.

There appears to be only two reasons for choosing an app over a website for business; the content is specifically designed for offline use, or the app needs to access specific equipment on the device such as GPS or a camera (though this, too, is changing).

Amazon has both; a site for browsing and a barcode-scanning app for comparing prices (see 30 seconds on ...).

It is at the vanguard of digital retail at a time when brands are just beginning to understand the different roles apps and the mobile web play. The app remains a powerful tool, but during 2011 attention will shift to the mobile web.

- Andrew Walmsley is a digital pluralist



- Amazon released its latest mobile shopping application, Amazon App for Android, last week. It is available as a free download from Android Market.

- The app enables users to compare prices, track packages and access the usual features such as 1-Click.

- A new feature is barcode scanning. This allows users to scan the barcode on an item, via their phone's camera. The app then provides a product match, with no need to type.

- Amazon Mobile for iPhone and iPod Touch offers a similar standard service. One experimental feature on this platform is Amazon Remembers. This allows users to take photos from their device to create a list of things they want to remember. If the item is a product, the app tries to find one similar for sale on the web; if it does, it sends the user an email alert, complete with a link to the product.

- Windowshop for iPad is a visually rich display designed to give iPad users a 'flowing' browsing experience, with all the usual shopping features.


Before commenting please read our rules for commenting on articles.

If you see a comment you find offensive, you can flag it as inappropriate. In the top right-hand corner of an individual comment, you will see 'flag as inappropriate'. Clicking this prompts us to review the comment. For further information see our rules for commenting on articles.

comments powered by Disqus
Brand Republic Jobs

subscribe now


John Lewis walks consumers through its history to celebrate 150 years of business
Waitrose boosts content strategy with 'Weekend Kitchen with Waitrose' C4 tie-up
Hottest virals: Cute puppies star in Pedigree ad, plus Idris Elba and Fruyo
Amnesty International burns candles to illuminate new hope
Toyota achieves the impossible by calming angry Roman drivers
Tom of Finland's 'homoerotic' drawings made into stamps
YouTube reveals user habits to appeal to 'older' marketers
Ex-M&S marketing chief Steven Sharp consulting at WPP
Wolff Olins reveals new CEO after Apple poaches Karl Heiselman
Glasgow offers £30,000 prize to best digital idea for 2014 Commonwealth Games
Google's revenues surge but shares drop as it grapples with transition to mobile
Facebook beats Twitter to most 'marketing friendly' social media site crown, says DMA
Fableists believe children like Finn should be outdoors enjoying life
Homebase, Baileys and Camelot join the line-up at Media360
MasterCard renews Rugby World Cup sponsorship to push cashless message
Lynx unleashes £9m 'Peace invasion' campaign
Social Brands 100 Youth: Pizza Hut most social youth brand in UK
Cheryl Cole is wild and arresting in new L'Oreal work
Morrisons told not to show alcohol ads during YouTube nursery rhymes
O2 head of brand Shadi Halliwell departs after 23 years at company in restructure
Tesco hit by further sales decline as it turns to digital Clubcard and social network
Branding guru Wally Olins dies aged 83
Duracell short film captures epic Transatlantic voyage
Ash runs Tinder experiment to show smokers are less desirable to opposite sex
British Airways teams up with Gerry Cottle Jnr for summer of rooftop film screenings
Arklu says 'girls can be superheroes too' with doll design competition
Coke enters squash market with Oasis Mighty Drops
Virgin Galactic signs up Land Rover as space flight sponsor
Motorola marketer Andrew Morley departs as Google gears up for sale to Lenovo
US Airways apologises after tweeting obscene image at a customer