Thep Urai - Fotolia

Should we take a mobile-first approach to development?

More and more companies are placing emphasis on the idea of 'mobile first.' But what does it mean to take a mobile-first approach to development?

If you do any work in mobile, at some point someone will ask you: "Is this mobile first?" But what does that mean? And what are the major factors making it necessary to consider taking a mobile-first approach to application development?

Many companies slip up by not recognizing that mobile is the first platform to support. For the past three decades, the PC has dictated how to complete work, and it's hard to make the mental transition from PC-centric to mobile-centric. What's more: Large systems such as SAP, Oracle and Outlook have for decades invested in PC development. There are, however, strong arguments for taking a mobile-first approach, including price, "micro moments" and the millennial generation.


Price is the top driver leading to a mobile-first world. Many phone companies now provide programs to lease a phone effectively for 12 to 24 months. Even Apple has a program that lets customers upgrade their phone every year, with the price ranging from $15 to $40 per month for a premium Android or iOS device. Emerging markets, however, need to have smartphones that compete at the same price points as feature phones (anywhere under $100 for the whole device).

The real champion is Google's Android. Google's entry-level device is called Android One. The goal for Android One is to have Google design the phone and have manufacturers build the phone, taking R&D for design out of the build process in order to keep prices within the $60 to $80 range.

Micro moments

The second driver for the mobile-first approach is time. Each day we waste time: standing in line at the grocery store, waiting for your kids to come out of school, sitting on the bus, etc. What if you could do something during that time? Your phone now lets you check email, reply to a chat, play a game or pay a bill. These short pieces of time are called "micro moments," and we have dozens every day. A mobile-first approach lets you turn this "wasted time" into new points of customer engagement.


The final driver is the most important: Millennials. A whole generation, now in their 20s, grew up with the Internet and adopted smartphones as soon as they hit the market. The follow-up generation, Gen-Y, hardly knows a time without smartphones. These two groups adapt quickly to rapid change, and companies need to take a mobile-first approach that caters to this generation's expectations in order to breach this up-and-coming market.

Mobile first is a mindset that companies need to adopt. The PC is not dead, but it will not be the primary tool used to get work done. Tools that are always on, always connected and always providing apps that understand the current context of the request will dominate. We are living in a mobile world, and that means it's time to go mobile first.

Next Steps

How to make mobile first a reality

Does mobile first impact the kind of apps that are being developed?

Five reasons architects adopt a mobile-first mentality

Dig Deeper on Mobile app development