10 things we (should) have learned about mobile and tablet news

For a Society of News Design panel at last weekend's conference in St. Louis, I made a list of 10 discussion points to get things going. Here they are:

  1. It's not all about the tablet. Tablets are cool. Tablets are significant. But phones are cool, too, and smartphone sales dwarf those of the iPad. Take the pocket-size format seriously.
  2. It's not all about the apps. Native apps have some theoretical advantages in performance, functionality and distribution -- but the numbers don't lie. Even the most app-focused newspaper can do far better on the open mobile Web. Be sure you're doing the mobile Web justice.
  3. It's not all about the iStuff. Designer Apple fanatic? Get over it. The world is becoming Android first, IOS second. Blackberry is falling like a dead bird and Windows Phone 7 is a rounding error. Do the right thing with Android.
  4. It's not all about serving every platform. Journalists who now fret about the digital divide can now fret about the feature phone gap. But forget about it. Aim high. People who don't have smartphones also don't have data plans. And by the time you're done with your project, smartphone penetration will have risen another 10 points anyway.
  5. It's not all about the right vendors. While vendors have a role to play, they're fundamentally tool merchants. If they sell you the wrong tool, it's your fault. Take responsibility for your product line and your strategic direction. Use vendors wisely.
  6. It's not just another distribution channel. We should have learned this from the Web, but many of us didn't. A mobile device is an intelligent device with storage and sensors and the full power of the Internet at its beck and call. It can do amazing things. If you don't take advantage of those amazing capabilities, you will have a sad phone, and sad users.
  7. It's not all about the news. Journalists go around wearing blinders. Real people have 360 degrees of information needs. Get practical. Get useful. Recognize the importance and utility of commercial information, databases, conversation.
  8. It's not "one size fits all." If you pile everything you do into one presentation, don't expect responsive HTML5/CSS3 tricks to save you from crushing your users in a landslide of ... stuff. Create multiple entry points into your big pile-o-data, serving specific mobile user needs. Don't make people wade through an avalanche of headlines to find the really cool geolocated apartment database you hid on your overloaded site.
  9. It's not just publishing; it's sharing. Facebook and Twitter and Google+ are the new front page. When someone shares a link, it had better work on mobile devices. Don't bounce the user to the front page of some crippled mobile application (as the Marriott conference hotel did on its website).
  10. It's not just about ads and sponsors. Billions of dollars are going to be spent on mobile marketing, and we haven't even begun to sort out the right way to serve those customers. This is a tremendous creative opportunity for smart designers who get functionality and have a few clues about implementation. The field is ripe for invention. What an exciting time this is.


We better be figuring this stuff out more quickly than we are. Seems like we (and by that I mean our industry in general and our company specifically) are fighting the last war when the next one breaks out.