In the midst of the mobile device fever gripping the publishing industry, a new report from Internet publishing platform provider Netbiscuits sheds light on how mobile business profitability extends beyond the latest Apple craze to a so-called “long tail” of Web-enabled devices, which, combined, generate the majority of website requests. “The Mobile Web Device Report: How Mobile Device Usage for Internet Access Varies by Market, Industry and Time” concludes that overlooking the long tail when optimizing mobile websites and developing apps for the dominant few-like the iPhone and BlackBerry-means publishers all too often miss out on a substantial chunk of potential traffic.
“For publishers that want to go mobile successfully, it is important to understand that the long tail of devices can—and very often does—outweigh ‘the dominating few’ in their market, industry or target group,” explains Ron Farmer, managing director of Netbiscuits Inc. “For a successful mobile strategy, it is therefore essential to optimize mobile services for all devices from the beginning.”
Based on data generated from the more than 2.5 billion page requests served by Netbiscuits between February 2009 and February 2010 in markets around the world, the report highlights the abundance of unique mobile devices used by real-world customers to access the Web. These include gaming consoles, wifi-enabled music players, e-readers and tablet computers along with smart and feature phones. Though most of these separately generate a share smaller than 1 percent of all page requests, their combined impact should not be underestimated, the report said.
According to the report, February 2010 statistics saw the top two devices (the iPhone and iPod Touch) capture 35.56 percent of the market, with the Blackberry Curve running a distant third at 4.13 percent. The remaining 2,505 devices generated 60.31 percent of all traffic, commandeering for the long tail camp nearly two thirds of all requests to Netbiscuits’ mobile publishing platform. Of these, 2,492 devices had a share smaller than 1 percent of the mobile Web market.
“The point is to keep being aware of the fact there are more web-enabled devices out there than only smart phones and tablet computers,” says Farmer. “The best way to cover them is to use a multiplatform publishing solution … that automatically takes care of all challenges that arise from a highly fragmented hard- and software environment, which ‘mobile’ definitely is and will keep being.”
So how can a publisher adapt? Netbiscuits offers a few suggestions: provide a mobile solution that works on any device, hence “multiplatform”; check the reports for each site on a regular basis and if metrics show a certain device consistently generates a high share of page requests, consider tailoring apps specifically for this device, whether it be a gaming console or e-book reader.
The mix of devices varies strongly by market, by industry, and even over time as new devices are introduced into the market (the unveiling of the iPhone, for instance, inspired a whole new class of devices primarily optimized for Web access), which is why monitoring the metrics of a mobile website is key: Only then will it be clear which platform is the most worthwhile and profitable for developing an app.
Though the report reflects device usage trends only among sites hosted by Netbiscuits rather than the entire market, its findings indicate publishers should no longer ignore the long tail, says Michael Neidhoefer, CEO of Netbiscuits. To do so, he says, is to “intentionally lock out the majority of [their] potential users and limit the profitability of [their] mobile business.”