Mobile first schmirst

by Andrew Japp on 17 March 2015

bm eyesI have a hunch, based on no solid foundation, that in a few years (I’ll commit to 5) we won’t talk about mobile first. I believe it is a short term fad or a transition. Instead we will talk about independent design, separating form from function. User research will define user requirements and design will be fined tuned to the medium on the front end regardless of the platform, technology or body part it’s beamed on to. This theory occurred to me when I heard the CEO of Evernote talking about their approach to design, and again as I watched the most recent episode of Black Mirror with its retina display technology.

The death of ‘mobile first’

I am a big science fiction fan, and I love it when concepts and ideas that someone dreamed up for a TV series set hundreds (if not thousands) of years in the future become a reality. We all looked on in disbelief at Star Trek’s communicators back in the 60’s, now they are pervasive, but will they boldly go further. Here is what I think could kill mobile first:

  • Screens are already growing to be more expansive and the race for the biggest but manageable screen must surely be over with the iPhone 6 plus and Samsung. Anything else will really disrupt and cannibalise the tablet market, where we are already seeing a slowing of interest. These screens barely need a mobile first approach due to their size, they are a law unto themselves
  • Wearable tech means there is a third screen to interact with, the second screen mobile will be the main interaction for now but this will split across desktop or TV as technology merges. I’ll leave others to discuss the merits of the iWatch and similar devices. Google glass is the highest profile device in this sector but it didn't take off, as the media expected. This is probably due to it being no more than a prototype and has now been discontinued till they can overcome the geeky stereotype and the fact that most people don’t want invasive technology on their face or others
  • Real retina display beaming right onto your eye (as per Brooker’s vision), will be the next advancement from, let’s say, Google. The screen then, is as big as it needs to be
  • I have played with Occulus Rift and it certainly felt like the future, and Facebook even put their money where their eyes are. Or is it doomed already?
  • Microsoft have launched the Windows 10 HoloLens which will have us interacting with everything in our household



  • Other alternatives are screens or digital paper that expand to a size that you need. Sony is experimenting, but it's very expensive and I was hoping for something more akin to Minority Report
  • If none of these were futuristic enough for you, how about projecting on to electrolysed air? I saw this prototyped a few years ago for a new type of TV. I can’t find any mention of an improved or production ready model but it can’t be far away. There is a 3D version that was prototyped back in 2011 which was starting to look like Star Wars-esque technology. Why project onto air when you can project onto yourself... via a bracelet. We have plenty of real estate around our bodies to play with

Mobile will die as our relationship with it deteriorates and sours and we will move on to other channels, whether it is those above or others not yet in the public domain e.g. Robots (for discussion in another blog on robotic interfaces).

A world after mobile

But what are the consequences of all this new technology? I cast my mind back to Charlie Brooker’s previous visual treats on dystopian technology (I hereby name it dystech) where futuristic everyday devices and software have a negative impact on human relationships and interactions. Some argue that technology is already impeding our ability to communicate and engage, campaigns like Look UP are trying to draw our attention to this impending doom. Enough ranting, above are just a few alternatives to what might surpass the ‘mobile first’ rhetoric that’s so popular at the moment. Responsive design is a solution for the design challenges of the moment. The devices and technology thrown into the multichannel mix will grow and vie for popularity. This will mean user experience and design will need to encapsulate the demands of a multi-dystech world, not just flash in the pan technology.

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