In our line of work, putting your intuition on the line is the norm. Predictions – albeit with some measure of a hypothesis – are what we do, and we often get them wrong. When we look back at some of the predictions made in the technology space in the last 150 odd years, we realize some of our predictions are not so embarrassing: In 1948 Thomas John Watson, CEO and Chairman of IBM, suggested: “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.”

Moving ahead 25 years to 1966, futurologists at Time Magazine, said that remote shopping would “…flop – because women like to get out of the house, like to handle the merchandise, like to be able to change their minds.”

Let’s skip to 1977 when Ken Olsen, the President and Founder of Digital Equipment Corp, said: “…There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home…”

And last year, the Global Head of Marketing at Dell more or less insinuated the iPad would fail. The media creatively translated his words to say in most headlines: “Dell executive says iPad will fail”.

Site optimization is no different – it is all about predictions. We can attest to making some horrible ones. But that is exactly why we test.

Now we’re entering this incredibly interesting epoch: the rise of the tablet and smartphone. We’re in uncharted territory. And just like traditional websites, there’s a lot to learn. So rather than make predictions, in this three-part blog series I’ll explore some of the most pressing issues in mobile and tablet optimization from my five years of experience in the industry.

Why should you care about optimizing for mobile and tablet?

 The obvious reason is because browsing, searching, buying, subscribing etc. is a different experience on these devices and consequently you will see divergences in behavior.  Usually we talk in terms of Visitor A behaving differently from Visitor B because they have, for example, come from different referring sources. Without trying to shatter your mind, we should be thinking in terms of ‘Visitor A’ behaving differently from ‘Visitor A’, visiting the same site on different devices.

We have terms like ‘m-commerce’, ‘couch commerce’ and ‘second screening’ being indiscriminately thrown around to describe these channels. Personally, I can’t even watch an entire episode of the new BBC Sherlock Holmes without, at some point, engaging with one of the four devices I carry around at any given time. Have you seen the new BBC Sherlock Holmes? It’s good, really good. It absolutely deserves my undivided attention.

Is this the future of e-commerce? Even if you’re considering the answer ‘yes’, then you already have a reason for optimizing against mobile and tablet devices.

Will tablets outgrow PCs as some predict? We don’t know – maybe this is just one more bad prediction. But all the data points to tablets cannibalizing PC sales. Recently, there was an article about a luxury company who was, as recently as two years ago, getting 0% of their revenue through mobile channels. That figure now sits above 20%. Two years is as long as some site redesign projects take. So perhaps the question should really be: can you afford to take the risk?

Then there’s the multi-channel monster. You have multiple customers accessing your content via multiple channels. Whatever your website goals, you are going to face the challenge of making an impression through each of these channels. You can no longer afford to de-prioritize mobile and tablet as channels. Someone could be browsing your product(s) right now on a smartphone and following through with a purchase via the telephone or your traditional website.

The biggest reason has to be that your competitors are, or will be, doing it. The lifeblood of your business may depend on it.

That’s all for now… We’ll talk about the rest in the next post, coming next Monday, as it’s a multilayered topic. Next time we’ll look at why the right time to optimize is now, and the best ways to go about it.