Late into the afternoon today, I was linked to a story from Twitter to TheNational (www.thenational.ae). I was browsing the web on my BlackBerry Bold 9700 when the page took forever to load. It was trying to render the entirety of TheNational’s web layout. Honestly, it was quite an annoying experience. Where international publications like the Wall Street Journal and The Telegraph can both deduce that I’m on a BlackBerry and render my page to fit my screen and lead me directly to the mobile site, TheNational, GulfNews, KhaleejTimes and 7Days all failed at this fairly simple task. This trend needs to change. If there are 500,000* Blackberry users in the UAE then this oversight is pretty appalling.

UAE PUBLICATIONS & MOBILE:
1. TheNational has its own iPhone application
2. Gulf News has a mobile site at [http://www.gulfnews.com/mobile]
3. 7Days has an iPhone application and will be soon offering new services to other smartphones via Mobimag**
4. Khaleej Times has a mobile site at [http://m.khaleejtimes.com]

Both Gulf News and Khaleej Times have at the least made an effort to accommodate mobile users across the entire spectrum. However, the Gulf News mobile site didn’t even render completely on my BlackBerry. It filled up half of my screen and a few zoom-ins later, I was at optimum size. 7Days and TheNational are both content with the iPhone as their mobile medium of choice or the upcoming dedicated apps for 7Days albeit in a flipbook format.


THE BIGGEST ISSUE

Let’s go back to the top of this post and see what began this whole issue. I was taken from an externally posted link to TheNational. Even if it had been either Gulf News or Khaleej Times, the result would probably have been the same. The reason – none of these publications are doing device checks to see what is the user’s device. I’m not going to always remember between Khaleej Times’ m.khaleejtimes.com or Gulf News’ gulfnews.com/mobile. Also, as a user I won’t alter the link if it takes too long. I’ll simply move along to another source. If these publications want to make it more accessible and user friendly, they would be better off understanding where their users are coming from, what their consumption device is and how best to cater information to them.


DEDICATED APPS

TheNational and 7Days both have iPhone apps but no mobile friendly sites. This is very strange when TheNational have themselves acknowledged the BlackBerry vs TRA issue repeatedly and the over half a million users in the UAE alone. Yet, they’ve both chosen to be on the iPhone. Perhaps, they have their reasons for it. Maybe their metrics told them that most people viewing their content were doing so on an iPhone. Or it was just a case of showboating.

iPhone applications of both TheNational and 7Days are at best glorified RSS readers. They allow sharing content with friends but there is no commenting, no multimedia, users can’t leave opinions, take part in polls etc.

Which leads me to my conclusion of an iPhone app being the most apt. They are showboating that they’re the first in the region or country to be on the iPhone. That’s it – plain and simple. No innovation, no breadth of content. I would do better to simply fetch RSS feeds of TheNational and put it into Reeder or Newsrack on my – alternative – iPhone.


THE WAY FORWARD

Working at a digital media & strategy agency (Innovations Digital) and having created the DoGood iPhone App (http://dogoodmovement.com) only to later have it acquired, I am often asked a repetitive question by prospective clients and peers for upcoming projects – “Let’s do an iPhone app!” My initial reaction masked behind a smile is usually “Why?” At the end of May 2010, there were only 80,000 iPhones in the UAE (Source: metrics.admob.com). Even with the euphoric sales of the iPhone 4, I don’t see that number anywhere close to 500,000 right now. I’m not proposing that iPhone apps shouldn’t be created. If your audience can be engaged through this medium directly then for all practical purposes, please do. But not at the cost of other users in the spectrum. Before publications start etching out plans for dedicated iPad and iPhone apps, get your mobile web experience right. Make it so strong that you cover the entire range of users and devices out there. And please, for the love of god, assume that users can now consume content from anywhere – they’re not always going to type in m-dot-k-h-a-l-e-e…  you get the drift!

As content providers, you need to ensure that no matter what platform the user is on, you can give him the near best experience and for mobile – quickly and simply.


Word of advice
: If you’re still confused how this works and you want to learn how you can better engage your users, do drop by Innovations Digital or ping me @mayankgarg.

*TheNational: Blackberry launches new service for Middle East by David George-Cosh (http://www.thenational.ae/business/technology/blackberry-launches-new-service-for-middle-east)
**7Days: 7DAYS is even more mobile (http://www.7days.ae/storydetails.php?id=95262&page=localnews&title=7DAYS%20is%20even%20more%20mobile)