Mobile web refers to accessing the Internet via a wireless network, using a handheld mobile device such as a smartphone or a tablet computer.
Why do we call it an explosion? Here is an explanation by numbers.
In 2011, 487.7 million mobile devices were sold worldwide against 414.6 million computers. Nearly 5% of overall Internet traffic came from non-computer devices. Smartphones are responsible for two-thirds of this traffic and the rest goes to the tablets. And if smartphones are way ahead, the sale of tablets increased significantly in 2011 (+100% of sales in France between January and December 2011).
With an annual increase of 25% in 2010 and 2011, the number of smartphones is expected to reach 982 million units in 2015 (against 472 million in 2011).
In 2011, Android has dominated the market with a share above 52%. iOS came in second with 15% (against 89% market share for tablets). The number of applications for Android has exceeded 400,000 in December 2011, doubling its market in just eight months.
The USA remains the largest buyer of mobile applications (57% of downloads are in their territory) but China will undoubtedly be the future giant with 870% increase in the market between January and October 2011.
63.6 million tablets were sold worldwide in 2011 while 17.6 million units had been sold in 2010. With an annual growth of 261.4%, sales growth should be particularly strong in 2016 with nearly 900 million tablets sold by that date.
It means that more and more people will see your websites on mobile devices. You will need to adapt the way you design your sites by making them more accessible to tablets or smartphones.
Where can you start?
Have an easy to use website: A finger is not a mouse pointer. Try to design for increasingly prevalent touch interactions with appropriate targets and gestures.
Content first, navigation second: A mobile site should not be a series of clickable link. The user must have access to the essential information on the homepage.
Don’t use flash: certain mobile devices can’t read flash (I’m thinking about Apple devices) but if you really want a flash website, make sure to have an HTML version as well.
Think ‘Mobile First’: As Luke Wroblewski explains in his book Mobile First, conceiving your website in priority for mobile devices allows you to redefine the web experience. Constraints are more numerous on mobile devices, so your sites will only be better on your computer!
This is not an exhaustive list because techniques for mobile web are constantly changing and it is your duty to stay on top. However, armed with these best practices and simple principles of design, you can make sure people will have a great mobile Web experience whenever they visit your site.