Is Mobile First Becoming Mobile Only? Where is the Digital Space Heading?

Lorraine Ryshin

February 26, 2019 | 4 min read

Last Updated: Jun 1, 2023

Currently, most brands design with the mobile experience in mind, if not with a completely mobile first strategy. As for the digital landscape at large, current trends and experiences point to an environment verging further towards an expanding smartphone reliance. This will continue as mobile innovates ease of use and facilitates better user experiences.

However, a mobile-only digital environment will likely never materialize. Instead, the digital space will make headway in lesser-used areas of technology: AR/ VR (Augmented Reality/ Virtual Reality) and the IoT (Internet of Things).   

Despite the widespread adoption of mobile technology, there are several challenges intrinsic to mobile. Also, the steady shift from desktop to mobile does not mean there is a looming end to desktop usage either.

Let’s look at how mobile dominates and how it’s lacking. The latter will show the limitations that mobile has to surmount to truly rule the digital space.

Lack of Internet Connection Impedes Mobile First

Firstly, mobile is hampered by the lack of a continuous internet connection, consequently facing the issue of reliability, especially for users on the go.  A no-wifi or shoddy wifi zone will either completely block or impede internet use, which will negatively affect users’ mobile experience.

With desktop, which is bound to one place, internet connectivity is rarely an issue, as long as one’s internet provider has decent coverage. Mobile cannot thrust forward unless there is more internet connectivity, since accessibility can make or break the mobile user experience.   

Mobile Vs Desktop

Mobile is more geared towards instant interactions, and is therefore used whenever and wherever. Desktop however, also has its advantageous moments, such as when users have more time to spare and are in a comfortable environment.

Desktop also leads in more difficult and laborious tasks, such as working and conducting research. It is safe to assume that offices are not going to install mobile phones for work-related tasks, at least not as employees’ main workstations.

Therefore, aside from its reliable wifi connectivity, desktop rules in time-consuming tasks, as well as in those that require a larger screen, such as for watching shows and films. However, mobile now accounts for nearly 70% of digital media consumption, so the jockeying for entertainment dominance has no definite victor.

Although more people sign up for Netflix via mobile, 70% of Netflix subscribers watch the programs on their TVs. This essentially proves that although users consume more entertainment on their phones, the desire to enjoy entertainment on larger screens still prevails, evidenced by the popularity of large-screen TVs.

Thus, even though mobile use is increasing, it faces challenges in how to be more reliable, practical and pleasurable to truly lead ahead of desktop and even TV.

The Edge of Mobile First

Despite these conditions, mobile still has the edge and ability to dominate digital.

Mobile has immense potential because it is more physically accessible; it is always in your hands or in your immediate vicinity.

This is especially important for e-commerce, as there is a greater consumer presence on mobile. For example, even when browsing in a store, customers check their phones to see if they can find better deals or delivery options elsewhere.

Additionally, some brands, like retailers Kohl’s, Macy’s and CVS offer app checkout for customers in-store, streamlining the buying process with a mobile-first approach.

With this virtually unlimited availability, there is a larger pool for potential sales. Mobile easily trumps desktop in this regard. However, even with a growing traffic of mobile marketplaces, mobile carries a lower conversion rate than desktop, as over 80% of mobile users who reach the cart don’t complete their purchase. It needs to obtain a shrinkage in the conversion gap to truly dominate.

Mobile continues to grow for specialized use cases. For example, certain services, such as e-hailing are only available for use on mobile. This is because these services were designed for apps; while desktop versions of these brands exist, their capabilities are far more limited.

Usually, the desktop versions do not include the basic services of these apps. (Think Lyft and Uber). This is because when there’s a linkage to mobility, there is no need for an additional desktop capability, as most of these apps are tailored for people on-the-go.

There are plenty of apps branching out of desktop almost entirely. For example, with Instagram and Snapchat, users can only post via the mobile apps. Apps are a hot digital tool, and their popularity isn’t waning any time soon. As more of them are developed, following suit of current mobile-first companies, the need to have their capabilities available on desktop will be diminished if not killed off.

The Rise of AR/ VR, the Internet of Things & Omnichannel Use

As technology advances at lightning speed, there are plenty of other alternatives giving mobile a run for its money. For example, IoT technology has advanced to a larger presence through virtual voice assistants in houses, smart refrigerators, smart mirrors, etc. There’s also the innovation of augmented reality, wherein real-world objects and elements are modified by computer-generated perceptual information.

For example, in e-commerce, augmented reality allows customers to use their own bodies and environments and add something virtual to them, such as to try on clothing from a store or visualize virtual furniture in their homes. These capabilities allow potential customers to assess products without the need to be physically present at a store. Instead, the store comes to them via AR.

Aside from these innovations gaining ground, people also switch their usage on channels. In a recent survey of grocery consumers on digital, we found that there are high conversion rates and session duration averages on both desktop and tablet. Conversion rates on desktop and tablets were at 8.86% and 6.84%, vs only 1.46% on mobile. Session duration averages were 7.1 and 6.7 minutes on desktop and tablet, while only clocking in at 3.7 minutes on mobile.

A Mobile-First World with Other Technologies Mounting

In conclusion, mobile has been growing at a gradual pace and brands have caught on, optimizing their mobile experiences, if not designing completely for the mobile experience first, as the name suggests. But despite this mobile-first approach, there is still a gap many brands face between user willingness to be on mobile and converting on mobile.

As such, mobile still has an uphill battle to climb regarding usability challenges it hasn’t yet cracked, despite its rise in use each passing year. (And despite the creation of more apps and higher website traffic on mobile.)

Conversely, there are also plenty of AR/ VR innovations in the works, which will continue to expand their presence beyond the sphere of the tech world and into people’s homes. It is only a matter of time before they become household names, and perhaps one day…staples.