On Thursday at the Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco, Yahoo’s Marc Davis spoke about the mobile internet and the future of the mobile industry. As the mobile web evolves, he said, it’s no longer good enough to simply port the PC experience to the phone’s small screen – it’s time to start building “mobile-first” products instead. What are “mobile-first” products? They’re services designed to take advantage of the strengths and abilities of the mobile devices themselves, leading to entirely unique creations that can only be found on the mobile web.

Mobile First Experiences

The mobile web is not just about accessing the internet from your phone. It’s an entirely new platform for communication that’s transforming our experience of the web, the world, and ourselves. Our mobile devices have unique sociological and technological attributes while also being a highly personal extension of ourselves, noted Davis. When developing applications for these devices, developers should take advantage of these differences.

To understand how “mobile-first” experiences differ from those on the desktop, you must understand what these unique attributes are. A “mobile-first” experience is:

  • Location Aware
  • Personal and Personalizable
  • 24/7 and Temporally Situated
  • Open
  • Voice Enabled

It also connects the web and the world in ways that have never happened before.

Mobile First Experiences Include Who, What, When, Where

Davis also introduced the concept of “W4” which is unique to the mobile. W4 means that on the mobile, you can combine the spatial, temporal, social, and topical experiences into one. Or, in more simple terms, a mobile experience includes the Who, What, When, and Where. A mobile phone knows the answers to these questions: it knows who you are, when you are, where you are, and what you’re doing. If, as a developer, you know these things, you can improve the user experience and content through ad targeting, personalization, and recommendation.

The mobile phone is also more than just a phone, Davis reminded the audience. It can also be a media consumption device, a media production device, a sensor in a sensor network, and even a social and cognitive prosthetic device that enables our collective embodied intelligence.

The Future of Mobile-First

When you think about the things that make the mobile phone different, you can start to create experiences for these devices that go beyond what could ever have been created for the desktop.

We already saw one example of this at the Expo when Heroes creator Tim Kring spoke about his new creation, the “mobile immersive experience.”

Of course, Davis used the new Yahoo! mobile web site at new.m.yahoo.com as an example of the mobile-first experience done right. He also pointed to the Tagmaps Proptype, a map service that provides information about places to go and things to see with changes based on what time of day it is. For example, during the day in San Francisco, you might be recommended to go check out Alcatraz, but at night, you’ll be pointed to restaurants and nightclubs instead.

These sorts of new experiences are just the beginning, says Davis. In the future, we’ll see mobile-first offerings that combine the real-time web and the world, introduce augmented reality applications, extend the internet of things, and more. But in order for us to get there, developers need to stop thinking of the mobile web as just the portable internet. They need start designing applications for the unique platform that is the mobile web.