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A man looks at the Twitter Inc. page on a mobile device whilst standing against an illuminated wall bearing Twitter’s logo. (Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg)
A man looks at the Twitter Inc. page on a mobile device whilst standing against an illuminated wall bearing Twitter’s logo. (Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg)

WILL PATE

Mobile product excellence will make or break a company’s future Add to ...

Will Pate is a mobile strategist.

Consumer Internet companies are either going mobile-first or suffering the consequences. Mobile product excellence is now a predictor of stock performance, and the performance of some top digital companies paints a very clear picture.

Facebook is up 33 per cent year over year. It has a mobile-product portfolio of the highest quality. Facebook spent whatever it took to acquire great products such as Instagram and WhatsApp. Mobile now makes up 80 per cent of its total revenue. CEO Mark Zuckerberg forces his teams to show him mobile-first products or he kicks them out of the room.

Google is up 32 per cent. It’s fighting hard to maintain mobile-ad relevancy as its search became a mobile-first activity last year. It paid $1-billion (U.S.) to remain as the default search on the iPhone. It released a suite of mobile-first advertising products. Google’s senior vice-president of search immersed himself by personally going mobile-only for more than a year, to understand the gaps in mobile experience.

Yahoo is down 31 per cent. Mobile-ad revenue is down 24 per cent. Its mobile-product portfolio is of mixed quality and has two sets of redundant apps for news and chat. In a mobile-first company, teams need to move quickly and collaborate effectively. Meanwhile, Yahoo still has an employee-ranking system that incentivizes staff to actively undermine each other.

LinkedIn is down 57 per cent. Its mobile-product portfolio is surprisingly weak for the world’s largest professional network. Mobile did grow three times faster than desktop, but still represents just 57 per cent of traffic. Nobody can make heads or tails of its strategy. The company relaunched a somewhat-improved flagship smartphone app in December and promised faster iteration, but the rest of its portfolio is still buggy and confusing. It also closed a promising ad-targeting product, similar to one Facebook is opening up to third-party developers to extend ad targeting reach across many apps.

Twitter is down 62 per cent. Consensus is that its mobile product is in desperate need of a revamp – it’s simply too hard to use. Tech reviewer Walt Mossberg called it “secret-handshake software.” While mobile video watching and ad spending are growing steadily, Twitter is stuck with seven- or 30-second maximum formats. Original product visionary Jack Dorsey is back as CEO, but he’s also doing double duty as CEO of Square, which is down 24 per cent since its IPO.

Each of these companies is full of remarkably bright people, but all have been caught behind the eight ball on mobile at times. Even Facebook had to warn investors in 2012 about its weakness in mobile. Tech billionaire Marc Cuban once thought mobile would crush them, and it could have.

Today, consumers are already mobile-first. Mobile is now the primary way people search, use social media, manage their money, stay informed and entertain themselves. You can still find a few activities where mobile is not primary, but it’s shrinking ground. That means both customers and employees are mobile-first.

Mobile is not a technology. It’s a behaviour set, driven by a context where everyone has a remote control for the world. It is simply the new reality, and to ignore it is to put an organization in a position where an upstart can make them irrelevant.

Mobile-first companies are coming for every other industry. Having an app won’t be enough. Regulations are just constraints that create new business models. Consumers and talent will both go to where they can find a mobile-first experience. San Francisco’s largest cab company has had a mobile app since 2013, and a medallion system. Uber is still driving them to bankruptcy.

Mobile-product excellence will soon become a predictor of success or failure for every industry. Leaders will need to transform their organizations to deliver, and investors will undoubtedly hold them accountable.

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