Forget the “pivot” or the “reboot” or the once ubiquitous “2.0” – the hot new technology buzzword this holiday season is the “mobile facelift.” From Silicon Valley to New York City, established Web companies that grew up during the early years of the Internet boom are taking a long, hard look in the mirror and deciding to get a little work done to prepare themselves for the new era of the mobile Internet. Companies such as Microsoft, Tumblr, Mashable and Yahoo have already announced mobile facelifts in reaction to the changing ways that users access content on mobile devices, and other big-name Internet properties like Facebook are likely right behind them.
Of these moves, the one by Microsoft is clearly the most aggressive – it’s an all-out attempt to change the way consumers perceive the company. And it’s all based around the new Windows 8 and interactive touch tile screens for mobile devices like the new Microsoft Surface. When people think of Microsoft, they typically think of the desktop PC, but Steve Ballmer wants to change all that. When you walk into the new Microsoft Surface store in New York’s Times Square, you get a sense of the magic that Microsoft is hoping will happen: people actually having fun, interacting with new Microsoft-powered mobile devices in entirely new ways.
According to media leaks, Yahoo’s mobile facelift also appears to be an effort to address the mobile-desktop divide. As part of a top-secret initiative called Project Home Run, Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer has cooked up a little magic for the winter holidays to make the Yahoo site experience more relevant across mobile. Early reviews of the Yahoo home page redesign make it clear that it’s meant to evoke a Pinterest or Flipboard-style experience, where rows of interactive tiles invite you in to experience different types of content. Now that mobile is the new paradigm, all of those interactive tiles are clearly designed for touch-responsive mobile devices.
Clearly, something new is going on as companies build a bridge to the new mobile Internet. In response, an emerging ecosystem of tech companies is starting with an even more disruptive notion – that the best mobile experiences are those that are built, from the ground-up, on your mobile device. Zapd was an early pioneer in the mobile website creation game, and is now back with another iteration that makes it possible to build a social website from your mobile phone in less than 60 seconds. In the same way, Tapestry is trying to change the mobile storytelling experience using “taps” instead of page swipes. And Yapp enables the creation of mobile apps for conferences or other one-off events within minutes, bluring the line further between “website” and “app.”
Even for companies that can’t afford full-blown cosmetic surgery, there’s a lot that they can do to make their websites more mobile-friendly. Take the case of Mashable. The company realized that many of its users were accessing content via tablet or mobile phone, and not just via the traditional desktop Internet. In response, Mashable is overhauling the way every page is displayed across these devices using a design approach called “responsive web design.” The underlying concept is easy — your site should look exactly the same on any digital screen, no matter how you shift, tilt or swipe the content. Along the way, Mashable is also abandoning the artificial construct of the “page” in favor of the “infinite scroll.” In short, you can keep swiping the site and more content appears, even though a page is not turning.
It’s an exciting time in Silicon Valley techland, especially if you’re viewing the changing innovation landscape through the camera viewfinder of your mobile device. In the same way that companies once raced to translate “offline content” into “online content” (sometimes with disastrous consequences – anyone still remember “brochureware”?), the world’s most innovative Internet companies are finally wising up to the notion that in a mobile world, it’s not enough simply to translate “Web content” into “mobile content” – there needs to be a fundamental re-thinking of how to leverage the full power of mobile devices to deliver that content. The mobile facelift is just the beginning — the older Internet companies may have the money and time to have a little work done, but it’s the new crop of fresh young mobile beauties that are going to be their new competition from here on out.
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