What is Mobile first?

There are a few companies including my own that are embracing mobile first as a business strategy. This blog is a series of posts that will go over several aspects of mobile first with an emphasis on testing. Scope includes tools, techniques, challenges, automation tools, devices etc. 

First let us try to define what is Mobile First, to aid with that discussion lets see what is not mobile first

Mobile first is not a technology

You can’t achieve mobile first by just adopting a new fancy technology – bootstrap, ember or some JavaScript framework. You can be mobile first by using a very classical stack like LAMP. Granted some newer frameworks will help achieve mobile first easier than others but the focus is on user experience. 

Mobile first is not just native apps

Mobile first is usually combination of mobile sites + native apps, the emphasis on or the other depends on the nature of the business. For a company like Uber, they can be exclusively native apps because they need access to device functionalities. But for a company like Slack, they have combination of native apps + sites. Having native apps helps user experience but they could achieve 80% of their functionality through a simple html site. 

Mobile first is not responsive

Responsive design/development goes along the same time as desktop design. Your site is also ‘responsive’ for other form factors not just desktop. During development if you can resize your screen to various sizes but still be able to ‘see’ content it is responsive. Unless you have hardcoded widths and heights HTML is inherently responsive. Though your fingers may get tired scrolling through (seemingly) infinite content. 

Mobile first is not mobile optimized

Mobile optimized websites have optimizations and enhancements to enable rendering on mobile browsers. Its a classical afterthought, something that is put in place apart from their main offering. Symptoms of mobile optimized sites –

  • They have a separate desktop site and/or subdomain “m.mysite.com”
  • They do some reformatting and have finger friendly buttons and gestures. 

Then what is Mobile first?

Mobile first is all about user experience

Mobile is a first class citizen in this world. Content, design, javascript, performance of a mobile experience assume paramount importance. Key idea behind this – if it looks great on a small screen, it is easy to scale it up bigger breakpoints. 

Mobile first is a grass roots change in your organization

To be mobile first every department in a company have to change their perspective, including Devs, Test, UX, Project management and Marketing. Backend developers should  be doing SOA and creating API’s. Front end developers should be developing for multi-faceted screens. Testers test matrix is blown wide. MVP for project managers should be a mobile site. Sales and marketing should have their budgets realigned. 

Mobile first is native apps + website

As noted above, mobile first strategy includes mobile devices as a whole. This enables a company to target all sorts of experiences  including tangential ones like windows phones, users who do not install many apps, etc. Also this affords a natural interoperability between various functions of a site. With specialized native apps it is not easy to talk other apps in a platform agnostic way

Mobile first is the future

Mobile devices already surprass desktop sales, in emerging economies these devices are the new PCs. Many companies realize this and quickly embracing mobile.  The list includes illustrious companies like Ebay, yahoo, slack, uber, airbnb that have redoubled their mobile efforts. 

With all that lets define 

Mobile first is a paradigm shift in developing software where products are created with an emphasis on mobile experiences, rather than desktop. Mobile sites, native apps become the new centerfold for the company around which various other initiatives and goals are driven.


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