Mobile First? The Desktop Still Has Three Good Years Left in It in SaaS

“Mobile First.”  OK, we all get it.  Look what’s happening on Facebook, as the majority of its usage has rapidly transitioned to mobile, throwing at least a wrench  into its browser-based ad model for the time being.  Google, Zynga, etc. the impact is huge and clear.  Apple seems to be the only one in consumer internet to have made a clean, clear jump from the desktop to mobile.  And leaders like Groupon and Square started in mobile, in whole or in part.

And look at PC sales: they plummeted -8.3 in Q3, according to the Wall Street Journal.

It does seem like “Mobile First” is what all the cool kids keep saying in SaaS now as their Design Principle.  It certainly sounds good.  And if your app truly is simple at least on the front-end — it’s clearly the way to go.

But:

  • The thing is SaaS is at least three years behind the consumer web.
  • And simple isn’t everything in SaaS, at least in the enterprise.  SaaS also has to at least cover the minimum level of complexity necessary to meet its core business process roles.
  • And the average SaaS worker, the average SaaS user’s, job is still data entry.  Enter data into Taleo for your performance review.  Enter data into Salesforce about your prospects.  Enter data into NetSuite or your bookkeeping or ERP or whatever system.  Data entry for now not only remains the purview of the desktop due to that being the optimal UX+UI (keyboard + large monitor), but also because most employees in data-entry roles still spend most of their time sitting at a desk, not on the road.

In our personal lives, by contrast, no one wants to spend any time at their desk.  We want to sit in bed or a Lazy-Boy, with a big glass of Pinot Noir, poking at our iPads while simultaneously checking our Android/iPhones.

So I think “Mobile First” is interesting.  It promotes some general good ideas in UX/UI — try to make it simple enough to at least work on an iPad.  And in the enterprise, BYOD alone has blurred the boundaries between consumer and enterprise user expectations in unexpected ways.

But taking this too far can do a disservice to all the customers that care #1 about function and #2 about business process and workflow.  You can end up with a product, or product extensions, that are too basic to really meet the customer needs.  And/or, you can put an insufficient amount of your scarce resources against your mobile use cases vs. the less trendy desktop/laptop ones.

Mobile Always may be the better mantra in SaaS.  But Always First, in 2012?  Like everything else in life – it’s more complex than that.

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3 comments

  1. Pingback: Mobile First for SaaS? Desktop PC’s Dead? Nope. « SmoothSpan Blog

  2. markokenya

    Great commentary. The more savvy workforce is already “semi mobile” i.e. they take their ipads to meetings and of course use them while commuting and waiting for things like the CEO showing up to start the company all hands meeting. During this time, they tend to read and reply to email, not much else. There isn’t time to dig deeper into collaboration, and the apps aren’t conducive to these tasks (yet).
    Imagine collaborating on a business plan that involves a) a new product, with designer renderings, sketches, wireframes etc, b) market size and revenue projections, in a humungous shared spreadsheet, c) lots of tasks, most of them shared, in a collaborative project management app. Will the mobile workforce actually move the dial on any of this, while sitting on the subway, or waiting to pick up a kid from school, or in the city square while waiting for friends to got for a beer? Until the apps are fully able to help you actually work on stuff – change a design drawing, update a market driver in a monster spreadsheet, self-assign a task, work on it and assign the follow-on task to a colleague, enter a new record in the company’s procurement app to request a consulting budget extension for your creative partner, etc. Until the apps can efficiently handle all this and more, the ‘mobile workforce’ isn’t fooling anyone – they’re just reading email, chasing that illusive ZERO INBOX mirage.
    Time for some really smart mobile SaaS apps.

  3. Pingback: Mobile First for SaaS? Desktop PC’s Dead? Nope. | WikiCloud

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