One in six UK adults now only use a smartphone or tablet to go online. Ofcom’s 2016 Media Usage and Attitudes report shows that 16% of UK adults do not use a desktop or laptop to access the internet; a huge increase from just 6% of UK adults the year before. These ‘Mobile Natives’ are now a significant and growing audience but not just ‘millenials’ – 20% of adults under 44 only use a mobile device to go online and for those aged 45-54 the number is still higher than the overall average, at 17%.

This number is larger than many would expect and will continue to grow. For a material proportion of the population they only access the internet through a small-screened device, and one that they keep with them at all times in their pocket. For these people mobile-optimised experiences are not enough, neither is just a mobile-first approach. For these Mobile Natives we need a mobile-best approach. Designing for their needs, their lives and the role the only device they use to access the internet plays in them.

Recent qualitative work by Ofcom with this group reveals the challenges they face, that are different to people who access the internet through a desktop or tablet device. For this audience, and for ‘mobile-best’ campaigns and ideas, four things need to be considered:

  1. Mobile devices can be constraining in what they offer – our Mobile Natives will find it hard to do tasks that involve a lot of typing, or for them to print something out, or see things on a large screen. Mobile devices contain many features you don’t get in desktops, but it is equally important to consider what you don’t get.
  2. Storing and recording information can be difficult – mobiles are well designed for people searching for information, but they find it hard to store this. Maybe they can screenshot things, or copy things into notes. But mobile devices work better for ‘in the moment’ experiences – if we want people to record something or store it for later we need to work hard to get round the restrictions of file and data storage.
  3. Accessing information by app makes comparison hard – consumers report that it is harder to compare products and services when you are accessing information via an app – there is typically less information on a screen and apps often do just one task. So comparing and evaluating products, services or decisions is even harder for Mobile Natives.
  4. Data allowances drive behaviour – for all Mobile Natives the concern about running out of data on their mobile network drives a lot of their behaviour. They are more likely to abandon tasks they find complicated or unintuitive. They will work less hard to understand what you want them to do.

There are many and huge benefits that mobile devices offer brands and agencies and they develop online campaigns and services. But the reliance on mobile devices, especially for this large and growing Mobile Native audience should also force us to reconsider what people will do and what we can ask them to do online. It’s not just about optimising an experience for mobile. It’s about designed just for mobile in the first place.

Matt Rhodes

About Matt Rhodes

Digital Strategy Director for work. Marathon runner and charity trustee for fun.

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