"Not knowing who your target customers are is like painting blindfolded."
Mobile web solutions provider dotMobi launched seven years ago, a time when the idea of browsing the internet from phones was almost laughable.
Of course, it was pre-iPhone (launched in 2007), a device widely hailed as a game changer for the smartphone market by making the mobile web and apps mainstream.
While Japan and Korea were early adopters of the mobile web, the western world was trailing, and 14 huge corps including Google, Samsung and Telefonica banded together to stimulate usage and dotMobi was born.
The original concept for dotMobi was to give businesses a mobile-optimised website using the .mobi URL to let consumers know the site was phone friendly, and it has notched up more than one million registered sites.
Nowadays, dotMobi concentrates on developer and brand-focused tools, most notably with its four-year-old DeviceAtlas service, a platform designed to give mobile webmasters information on the phones accessing their sites.
dotMobi also markets the goMobi mobile web publishing platform as well as publishing mobile focused sites for developers and marketers in the shape of mobiForge.com and mobiThinking.com.
Ronan Cremin, vice president of engineering for dotMobi explains the importance of device discovery, comparing not knowing your audience to painting blindfolded, as part of the firm's mini-series with ME.
What is the purpose of DeviceAtlas?
DeviceAtlas is a developer level tool. It's designed to equip your site with the intelligence it needs to serve up a good experience to visitors.
It solves the problem of device diversity, as consumers use all manner of devices from Nokias to iPhones, all of which have varying shapes and sizes.
As a publisher it's important to deal with the situation if you want to provide a decent experience for the end user, so you need to know what device they're browsing from.
If you don't do this, it's something like an artist painting on a canvas he doesn't know the size of – while blindfolded.
On the other hand, web analytics providers need to be able to tell their customers what percentage of traffic is Android or iOS, which device is the most popular, screen size etc and we help some of the biggest analytics providers provide that intelligence.
How does the service work?
Before you send a page to a mobile device, it helps to know the physical size, screen size, OS, whether it has a camera, touchscreen and so on.
All of these things need to be taken into account if the user is going to get the most from the site.
What changes have you seen since launch?
For the last 15 to 20 years, the web used to be a fixed standard for most designers, something that runs across desktops for use with mice and keyboards.
Of course, mobiles and connected TVs have stretched and pulled the internet, which means developers need to cater for screens much smaller and much bigger than traditional desktops.
What's powering the switch to the mobile web?
The transition is being driven by HTML5, which powers 'web apps' sufficient enough to displace installed ones.
Indeed, 20 per cent of apps in the iOS store are just a web site wrapped in a native app which strongly suggests they should have just been a mobile web site in the first place.
How do companies operate the service?
The DeviceAtlas product is designed to work behind the scenes correctly identifying and providing intelligence on accessing devices. What kinds of information people need on devices changes from one company to the next.
If you're YouTube then you'll be interested in video formats, if you're Google you'll care about click-to-call or the screen resolution. Our customers decide what makes sense for their business.
Who is using the technology?
A large portion of the Fortune 500 companies use DeviceAtlas, and we currently process a fifth of all web traffic. We end up seeing a lot of traffic from analytics firms and ad providers so you probably encounter us frequently whether you know it or not.
Sprint is a prime example, as the network redirects users to specific experiences based on their accessing device.
On the other hand, Adfonic targets ads to specific devices. By knowing what device is requesting an ad page, they can send a targeted ad to that device, ensuring the ad banner fits to the page, while the ad is relevant.
A lot of DeviceAtlas usage is baked into certain platforms like Adobe’s Omniture, who use the service to provide the clients with statistics, or Usablenet who use it to ensure the web solutions they build for their clients work for all connected devices.
Overall we have clients in more than 140 countries.
What are the biggest hurdles encountered?
For years we've been saying that mobile is going to be the most dominant form of traffic at some point and it looks as though it's going to be true very soon.
Convincing people of that fact can be tricky, but it's getting easier as people like Google and Samsung say it's happening already.
Another hurdle is staying ahead of the diversity, the nature of DeviceAtlas means we have to stay on top of every handset release everyday, regardless of where it is in the world.
That might sound okay for the western world where you're dealing with Nokia and Samsung etc, but it's much harder to keep track of what's going on in China for example.
There's a large number of grey products doing the rounds that the government isn't even aware of, but we have to keep on top of it all before it hits any of our customers' sites because that's our business.
Another thing is that the space is moving so fast, we often talk about the mobile web, which isn't actually an accurate term anymore. TV isn't mobile or desktop web, so trying to describe how the web has simultaneously become a smaller and a larger thing is very difficult.
What can be expected in terms of growth?
We're at the stage when mobile traffic is going to pass the desktop, which is already the case in Japan and it's likely to happen here soon. In fact, some brands like ESPN have more mobile traffic than they do on the desktop, which makes sense as people will want to check scores/results while they're out and about.
The average company has around 20-30 per cent of total traffic driven from mobile, which is significantly higher for niche brands, and it's increasing extremely rapidly as smartphone penetration rises.
A new flavour of the web is coming for sure and the diversity is huge. It's a lot more complex to publish to than people have been used to and this change tends to be a really wrenching change. The industry is just waking up to what it all means.