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How thinking became mobile first

Companies, both big and small, are using smartphone technology to reach their employees. Native mobile apps, social intranets, mobile-optimised websites – they all put direct lines of communication into the pockets of your audience. 44’s Head of Innovation and Insight Tom Ives breaks down how this ‘mobile first’ approach arose and how it can bring your employees together… 

In the palm of your hand

Have you ever heard of a PalmPilot? I used to sell them in Dixons nearly 15 years ago. As you can probably guess from the name, they were palm-sized devices that helped you get stuff done. They had touch screens and an early form of mobile internet connection (WAP).

But unfortunately for the PalmPilot, back in 2003 the design’s processor speed, compact memory storage and internet speed weren’t good enough for it to become mainstream.

Just four years later, Apple launched its internet phone – the iPhone. It took the previous PalmPilot, combined it with phone features and (as some argue) perfected the technology. It took off and smartphone popularity on the whole grew rapidly. It wasn’t just Apple, a whole new channel of communication was opened up between devices, and their users.

But what does this have to do with communication within businesses? By understanding why certain features were developed, we can get an insight into the habits of modern smartphone users – members of your workforce – and how to use the technology to make communications more convenient and effective.

A technical evolution

The iPhone wasn’t a complete package at launch; it has continually evolved and influenced user habits since then. The App store, 3G support, video capture, voice control, the selfie camera – all of these features were introduced as developments in technology occurred. Features that once appeared cutting-edge are now tools most of us use on a daily basis.

So with these personal, internet-enabled, super computers in our pockets, marketers had a fantastic opportunity. The previous mantra of ‘digital first’ changed to ‘mobile first’ thinking.

The new user experience

But in this mobile-first world, what has changed, and how did we get here?

Hardware in the smartphones made new experiences possible. GPS microchips meant the devices knew where they (and you) were. An accelerometer microchip meant smartphones could now tell which way up they were, whether they were moving and how fast. This opened up a whole new world of possibilities – and useful apps, such as Fitbit for recording your physical activity throughout the day, Strava for mapping cycle rides and Apple’s Health kit.

The new multi-touch screens made complex controls intuitive: pinch to zoom and swipe and scroll to browse. The portable devices enabled quick answers to time and location specific questions. ‘How do I get from A to B?’, ‘When does that shop open?’, ‘Are those jeans cheaper on Amazon?’ – actions we now barely register because they come to us naturally.

The technology led to a user experience focused on functionality and task completion.

Getting to know you

The portable size and useful apps combined to enable the most powerful feature of smartphones – the personal nature of the devices. Made to be your private and secure place, they know where you go, your preferences and the ecosystem you use. Perhaps yours are Apple TV for streaming Netflix, Carplay for navigating in your car, and Instagram for keeping in touch with your friends.

So for employers, the challenge is to be where your employees are – ideally on their personal device – and provide the same convenience at work as they get from the apps they rely on at home.

Like the original iPhone did, use your technology to make individual, informative and inspirational experiences possible. And give your employees a place where they can get the information they need in the easy, simple way they’re used to.

If you’re unsure how to face that challenge – give us a call. For example, we can help you find out more about ‘Workplace’ – Facebook’s new app for companies, how chat apps like ‘Slack’ are reinventing collaboration and how the social intranet ‘Jive’ could connect your employees. So let’s get started.

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