As phones become smart phones, and smart phones become tablets, it’s getting harder to identify the differences beween what constitutes “mobile” and what defines “online”.  After all, we can do almost everything on a phone today that we can on desktop.

But there are differences when you scratch a bit below the surface, especially when it comes to media and advertising.  Here’s a list of some of the key differences that I’ve been thinking about:

  1. Limited Bandwidth: Mobile web users are not typically on Wi-fi, so are subject to higher bandwidth limitations when compared with their web-browsing counterparts.  This difference affects the design of web browsers and the amount of content that a user can consume (and therefore user behavior).
  2. Different user goals: Typical mobile web users are goal-directed, unless they are on apps. Their intentions on the mobile web are often to find out specific pieces of information that are relevant to their context.  This means less “browsing”, less content (no lengthy documents), more directions and more last-resort sources of data.  While this behavior is evolving with the improvement of mobile devices and the popularity of applications, web browsing remains a different behavior on mobile than it is on a desktop.
  3. Screen Size:  Due to the lack of standards around screen sizes, advertisers must deliver creative units in a minimum of four sizes for display advertising.  This has created challenges that were easier to overcome in desktop media.
  4. Mobile Browser Limitations: Mobile browsers often do not support scripting or plug-ins, which means that the range of content supported is limited. In many cases the user has no choice of browser.
  5. Location, Location, Location:  While it remains difficult to locate a mobile web user by analyzing IP address (as is done on desktops), location information determined by means such as mobile phone tracking and other real-time locating system technologies like Wi-Fi or RFID can be used to customize media content presented on the device.  While hyper-local advertising solutions have yet to enjoy broad adoption, the unique goals of the mobile user, coupled with the ability to identify a user’s location within a few yards presents a unique opportunity to engage with a consumer.
  6. Applications:  Players like Apple have flirted with the idea that desktop users are interested in a wide variety of applications; but so far mobile smart phones and tablets have been unique in that a broad range of users are willing to spend money on, and accept advertising from, a wide variety of very narrowly-focused applications.
  7. Analytics and tracking: For a variety of reasons, analytics is one of the larger challenges facing mobile content developers and advertisers because identifying visitors is difficult to do.  This is a pretty deep topic in-and-of itself,  and with all of the changes currently being proposed to tracking, this is becoming even more complicated of a topic.