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Internet access Mobile technology

Rural Internet Access Remains Elusive

Rural Internet Access: Still Elusive for Many Americans

Internet access in rural America has improved but remains pretty rudimentary as far as speed goes.

This discourages a lot of rural Americans from investing in it at home. Those who are on a fixed income (especially elderly retired people) would rather get DirecTV and I can’t say I blame them.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is busy dismantling Net Neutrality even as nearly 40% of rural Americans still lack internet access according to its 2016 Broadband Report. You can read more about this in an article by Sharon Strover, an internet access researcher at the University of Texas – Austin published on The Conversation, an online journal supported by universities and foundations.

Rural Internet Speed Probably Won’t Improve

Writing about “reaching rural America,” Strover says the FCC is thinking of reducing its current minimum standards—25 Mbps for downloads and 3 Mbps for uploads—in order to achieve a more robust statistic (at least on paper) for acceptable Internet access.

What about those ads claiming to provide fast downloads no matter where you live? Well, the equipment might be able to handle high speeds, but the actual infrastructure can’t because, Strover explains, providers don’t upgrade rural wiring as often as they do for urban areas. It’s a matter of economics: urban lines will reach thousands of customers inside a few square miles but it might need hundreds of miles of wiring to reach a few dozen rural customers.

Because the internet isn’t considered a utility, there’s no support for ISPs to extend more and better service to rural areas.

Most poignantly, Strover relates conversations with people who can’t even get DSL because they’re too far from the local cable company’s reach. They aren’t living off the grid—they have electricity, water, phone service—but since the internet isn’t considered a utility, they’re basically left out of the conversation. Satellite access, which is universal, is too expensive.

And guess what? The FCC is considering taking away one of their few options, the Citizens Broadband Radio Service. This broadcasts on a frequency range rural Internet providers might be able to use, but the FCC is thinking of giving it to the larger telecom companies.

Lack of Internet Access Reduces and Can Eliminate Opportunity

You don’t need me to tell you that lack of internet access compromises opportunities to find jobs, apply to college, and even turn in an impressive homework assignment.

Back in the pre-internet days, research meant going to the library. Luckier kids like me had encyclopedias at home to consult, at least for historical perspectives. The single library in the town where I grew up was open on nights and weekends, something that’s been curtailed in recent years across the nation as municipalities scramble to reduce costs. This obviously affects lower-income people who can’t afford internet access at all the most.

You need internet access to apply for jobs, particularly minimum wage jobs at national franchises from McDonald’s to Wal-mart. They’ve heavily invested in internet recruiting even if many of their target employees can’t get in.

The federal government has been trying to expand internet access through the FCC’s Connect America Fund. This was launched in 2011 to bring internet services to rural America. It’s had some success, but as FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel has noted, there’s still a lot of work to be done, particularly to deliver high-speed connections.

The Fund works by auctioning opportunities for ISPs to expand into rural areas, bolstered by a grant program that will distribute almost $1.5 billion over ten years. According to its auction overview page, 103 bidders were selected in 2018 to provide fixed broadband services on four tiers. The Minimum tier falls below the FCC’s current standard and accepts 10/1 speeds.

This leaves one to wonder if low-speed internet even worth the reduced cost. If data can’t download, what’s a student or job applicant to do?

Many Rural Americans Get Internet Access At Libraries

Internet access available here.

Rural Americans turn to their libraries for internet access.

Of course, not everyone can get on the net during library hours. And most libraries limit the time spent on shared computers. Libraries in New York and Chicago, cities that both have leading universities and sizable low-income populations, began lending hotspot devices a few years ago that people could use at home to connect to the internet, usually through their own smartphones.

Strover and researchers Brian Whitacre of the University of Oklahoma and Colin Rhinesmith of Simmons University (Boston) have studied mobile hotspot loan programs operating in rural libraries in Oklahoma, Kansas, and Maine and in Boston. Their overall assessment found that the mobile hotspot device lending is useful to people who can’t afford, or can’t get the internet at home, but is certainly no substitute for regular, 24/7 internet access all the time.

Hotspot Device Loans: A Bit of Normalcy for People on the Wrong Side of the Digital Divide

You’ve probably heard of the Digital Divide that describes what amounts to the haves versus the have-nots in terms of internet access and resources.

Across all the sites, researchers learned that hotspot device loans eased this divide just a little bit, for a tantalizingly short time:

  • High internet costs is a major reason rural residents sought out hotspot devices from libraries.
  • Many used hotspot devices with prepaid phones because they couldn’t afford a regular cellular plan.
  • People want internet access not because of so-called FOMO (fear of missing out) but because they understand it’s about KOMO, or knowledge of missing out.

Users who filled out surveys rated the devices a 9 out of 10 90% of the time. The tiny number who gave a rating of 5 or below turned out to have received devices that malfunctioned or had unsteady cellular connections at home. Parents commented on how helpful the devices were for their kid’s homework. This echoes Commissioner Rosenworcel’s comments about the “homework gap,” a phrase she coined to describe the barriers faced by students with insufficient or no internet access at home.

Low Internet Access Generally Indicates Low Income

Even though it’s not a hot topic among politicians, rural internet access is something our elected leaders should care about it.

Why? Because being on the wrong side of the digital divide aggravates conditions that were already there. Americans on the wrong side of the digital divide live in older homes that haven’t been wired for internet access, and often in communities that don’t have easy access to libraries. That’s one reason why the hotspot device loan program was so popular: they could take it home!

A 2017 study by the U.S. Department of Education‘s National Center for Education Statistics looked at data from 2010 and 2015 and found modest increases in internet access among children ages 3 -17. Still, the news wasn’t good for rural children, especially those from minority backgrounds. Many still had no internet access or dial-up in 2015:

  • 41% of Black students
  • 26% of Hispanic students
  • 13% of white students
  • 11% of Asian students

Overall, 13% of all rural children had no internet access at home in 2015. Among those living in remote areas, the average was 18%. Interestingly, 13% of urban children also had no internet access at home. Looking at children from families at or below the poverty level, the report found:

  • 30% had DSL or cable dial-up or no internet access at home
  • 49% had fixed broadband of any sort
  • 12% had mobile broadband, including mobile dial-up
  • 9% had “access without a subscription”

Low-Income People Live in Older Homes Passed Over by ISPs

Cost may not be the only factor blocking internet access: older buildings in urban or suburban neighborhoods that have not (yet) been gentrified aren’t wired for high speed. And like their rural counterparts, they probably aren’t putting up satellite dishes either due to cost or landlord restrictions.

Michael Martin of the Census Bureau looked at data from the Bureau’s five-year American Community Surve released in 2018. Although he focused on access to high-speed internet, he couldn’t help notice that communities not receiving these services had a high concentration of Black or Hispanic residents. Native American reservations also show low rates of broadband access.

Martin notes that counties with just one high-speed provider had fewer subscribers, possibly because the lack of competition kept prices too high for consumers. Or maybe the speeds weren’t high enough or consistent enough.

It’s hardly shocking that access to high-speed internet connections are lowest where poverty is highest. Martin’s chart on page 28 of his report shows a light green sea of low access communities just where you’d expect them: in large swaths of rural America. West Virginia and Nevada, for example, really stick out from neighboring states. Eastern Arizona, where the Navajo Nation is located, is a swatch of white, meaning there is no or very low high-speed access.

School Districts Get Creative

As usual, it may be up to the school districts to figure it out.

The DoEd report highlighted a couple of creative ideas to deliver internet access that would work (assuming there’s funding) particularly well for rural students:

  • WiFi on school buses; many rural students spend an hour or more on school buses each day
  • Providing mobile hotspot devices for home use (similar to the library program)
  • Funding digital learning at home to obtain internet access (and avoid long bus rides)

Reinstating Net Neutrality could bring down costs, but not necessarily access. Redefining internet access as a utility would probably do a lot to narrow or even eliminate the digital divide. After all, “only” 600,000 American homes lack indoor plumbing!


Want to learn more about rural access to the internet and other key services? Check out this report from NPR’s Science Friday on Bridging the Digital Divide in Texas.

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Arizona issues Arizona social issues Mobile technology

High Noon at the Nail Saloon

My son recently treated me to a much-needed pedicure at the neighborhood nail saloon–er, salon–which was much calmer than an earlier visit a few years back! So I thought I’d repost this older blog. The salon has new owners and employees who were alternately shocked and amused when I mentioned the events below!


Every now and then, I have a manicure or a pedicure.  So it was exciting for me and my neighbors when a nail salon opened right around the corner from us.

Not long after they opened their doors, I went in to ask if they were interested in getting a website. The staff didn’t seem to understand, or maybe they weren’t interested so I didn’t employ my usual charm and persuasiveness. But I took a brochure.

The Nail Salon Owner Likes My Dogs

Some weeks later, a woman who I think is one of the owners stopped me as I was walking by with my dogs. She fell in love with them. Not enough to get her off her mobile phone, but enough to shoot questions like “what kind of dogs are these?” “where did you get them?” and my all-time favorite, “how old are your puppies?”

Most impressive was that while petting them and making personal comments about Dino and Bella (“he’s kind of fat, isn’t he?”), she continued a lively conversation with someone in, I think, Vietnamese. I was impressed with this display of bilingual multitasking. I mean, I can’t even chew gum and write at the same time.

The Nail Salon Became the Nail Saloon

This past Good Friday, I decided to get a pedicure. My boyfriend asked if I’d accompany him, his mother, and his brother to Good Friday evening services. Since I’d never been to a Greek Orthodox service, and he’s been diligent about attending my Sedars, it sounded like a great idea and nice thing to do with his family.

But my feet were a mess, the weather was warm, and I wanted to wear my cute Tommy Hilfiger chunky sandals. It was time to visit the nail salon.

For the record, the service was great. It was more than half-full when I arrived but there was enough staff for someone to take me right away. The pedicure chairs were leather (maybe fake, I really don’t care), comfortable, and had all those kneading and rolling settings. The attendant brought me a cold bottle of water–a nice touch. I chose a pedicure spa treatment that included…well, you don’t need the details but let me tell you, that cheese grater thing took off about an inch of dead heel skin and my feet have never felt so good.

Enter the Nail Saloon Battlers

I had barely noticed a rather large woman on her cellphone when I entered the salon. But about halfway through the treatment, I heard her loud and clear and trust me, I wasn’t listening for her. I had my earbuds in, listening to the classic rock station on my own smartphone. I may even have closed my eyes for a minute or two. Until I started to hear snippets about a problem at work, something about a lawsuit, and a lot of talk that really shouldn’t be out on the public airwaves:

  • “I will send you a memo with bullet points detailing everything that happened.”
  • “I understand they intend to sue. I have a defense.”
  • “That just isn’t true!”

And on and on. And louder and louder. I looked at the woman working on my pedicure, and she looked at me. She and her coworkers looked at each other.

Drawing of a mobile device with a slash through it - turn it off!
Turn it off dammit!

Finally, a tall slender woman who’d walked in maybe five minutes earlier got up and said, loudly, (I’m still wearing my earbuds) “I’m sorry, I just can’t relax in here with her shouting.” And off she stalked to the front, stopping at the cash register and adding “I will still pay for your time.”

At that point, Loud Woman finally ended her conversation. I returned to listening for tickets to see Heart at the Celebrity Theater. Then the shouting started. Thin Woman yelled at Loud Woman for being selfish. “You’ve ruined everyone’s afternoon. No one here wanted to hear you on your cellphone. This is not the place to take calls like that.”

“I had to take that call. You have no idea why.”

“Oh yes I do. I think everyone here does. And no one wanted to hear your sorry-ass business problems.” She looked at the rest of us gaping at them. “How many people here think she’s behaved selfishly?”

We all raised our hands. The employees froze.

The Fight is On – Words and a Big Gulp Fly!

Loud Woman did look embarrassed for a moment as she turned to look back and saw everyone’s hands in the air. “If I behaved inappropriately I apologize.”

Thin Woman was on a roll. “You behaved like a real asshole. I came here–we all came here–to relax. No one can relax with you shouting your shit all over the place.”

“You can’t talk to me like that!”

“I can and I am–because you are an asshole! What kind of example do you think you’re setting for your daughter over there?” (points to a girl of about 11 or 12 who was sitting quietly on the other side of the salon. I had noticed her texting through a manicure).

Now I know, and the owners should have known, that when you start dragging someone’s kids into an argument and comments on how you’re raising them, that’s fightin’ words. And sure enough, a fight broke out.

Thin Woman stepped around the cashier, who was trying to block her way, to face Loud Woman, whose feet were still in a tub. There was another exchange, a dare to repeat something that was duly repeated, and Thin Woman lunged toward Loud Woman.

By then, the single man working there–possibly a co-owner–raced over and physically separated them. A second later, the cashier–the same woman who had admired my dogs– jumped behind Thin Woman to pull her away. At the same time, Loud Woman threw her Big Gulp at Thin Woman drenching her and the owners.

More shouting, and Thin Woman departed.

We customers all looked at each other. “Well,” someone said, “not what you see every day at a nail salon.”

Photo by Mike “Dakinewavamon” Kline

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Lifestyle Marketing Mobile technology

WiFi Calling To The Faraway Towns

My new-ish smartphone started prompting me a couple of weeks ago to install WiFi calling. Since we’re still getting acquainted, I’d lose the notice as soon as I tapped in my PIN and I’d get sidetracked by something else.

But then the prompt remained visible and I went through the brief process of installing WiFi calling, which I knew nothing about. In an age where nonsequiturs like “alternative facts” or “collusion isn’t a crime,” abound, I had reason to believe WiFi calling had nothing to do with my router. But, it turns out, WiFi calling (forgive me the Clash hit is now an earworm)  is exactly what it implies. Imagine that!

WiFi Calling Fixes The Problem of Shaky Cell Coverage

WiFi router
Now you want me to take your calls? / Pixabay – Wikimedialimages

I live in a weak cell phone zone. Every cell phone coverage map I’ve looked at except one shows my neighborhood to be in a weak zone. I have no reason to believe the supposed standout is any better than the others and anyway, I don’t like the company.

As a result, I’ve dropped many calls in my time. Since I use a smartphone for my business, this really was a problem.  I figured WiFi calling was worth a try. My new smartphone, which is also on a new network for me, seems to be better about hanging on to calls, even when I’m on the sketchy north side of my house.

WiFi calling is supposed to be faster than 4G and can connect in more places, which so far seems to have fixed my problem with dropped calls. I’ve had uninterrupted phone conversations in different parts of the house. It didn’t seem to cause any interference with the other connected devices in our home, either. To be honest, they don’t gobble much data. As far as I know, no one here is doing heavy-duty gaming or running a cryptocurrency operation.

What Took Me So Long to Get WiFi Calling?

So why was I suddenly getting messages to encourage me to connect to WiFi calling? And why didn’t I have it sooner?

To answer that first question, WiFi calling isn’t pre-set on smartphones even though those manufactured since 2016 can “seamlessly switch between 4G and WiFi” according to one FAQ. To answer the second question, most Android phones manufactured before 2016 didn’t have WiFi calling capability, including my older phone. (It became available on the iPhone 5c.) Perhaps it took a few months for my provider to realize I  hadn’t taken this step, or analyzed my bill and saw I was using their weak cell towers.

WiFi Calling Is Free! (For Now)

It occurred to me a few days after I installed WiFi calling that this could be one way for sneaky Internet service providers (ISPs) or mobile providers to charge for better services.

Much to my surprise, WiFi calling is free when used within the US, at least for now. It will not count toward minutes if you aren’t on an unlimited calling plan and apparently it won’t count against your data usage either since it relies on access to WiFi networks. Keep in mind, though, that Net Neutrality is officially dead. I’m not optimistic that ISPs won’t figure out a way to measure the data used for WiFi calling and charge accordingly. It shouldn’t be long before they take advantage of the so-called “light touch” regulation the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) now embraces.

Am I paranoid? Well, arguably yes but I do rely heavily on the Internet for my freelance work. I conduct a lot of research and a good chunk of my writing lives on the Google Drive and Dropbox.

ISPs Love WiFi Connections

I had, of course, set my phone to work with my WiFi for Internet access. I don’t recall seeing a prompt to set up WiFi calling during this process which strikes me as odd.

ISPs want more devices connected to them and have created whole-home connection services, or WiFi extenders, for an extra charge. Comcast recently introduced the Xfinity xFi Pods, small pods you plug into an outlet and connect to Comcast’s xFi Wireless Gateway or xFi Advanced Gateway. Everything is set up using a mobile app that pairs the Pods with a router compatible with the whole shebang. You can also monitor performance through the app. Pods come in six-packs and three-packs costing $199 and $119, plus a monthly charge.

Cox, the major ISP where I live, has the Panoramic 2-in-1 WiFi Modem that looks like a smart speaker. It’s not explicitly calling it an extender but it does advertise a lot of the same benefits: whole-house coverage including normally dead areas “for all your devices” and a Cox Connect app. The WiFi modem has 24 channels and is available with the $60.99 Internet service, plus $9.99 monthly modem rental. The modem itself is rental only and includes Cox servicing and replacement.

Not that I have a choice, but the Cox package is more appealing to me than the Comcast one.

Perhaps the ISPs are colluding coordinating efforts with wireless phone providers to add smartphones to their services. There is definitely an advantage to having higher speed Internet than the minimum basic or starter packages. And if consumers are more satisfied with their wireless providers, they’re less likely to be tempted away to another network. I can see the mutually beneficial arrangement.

More WiFi Calling Benefits

As I’ve noted, WiFi calling is free throughout the US including Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. And some wireless providers offer it free overseas in countries where the service is available, but you will still pay for international rates if you are placing the call unless, as I learned this summer, you call a US number that happens to be outside the US. In that case, the charge goes to the party that picked up the call.

You can, of course, get around this by using your Skype app or WhatsApp.

You can use WiFi calling when your phone is in Airplane mode. I do not know if this will get you kicked off an actual airplane; check with that carrier.

Have the engines stopped running?

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Arizona business Arizona Tech Communiy Mobile technology

Powering the Internet of Things

The Internet of Things (I0T) is here and it’s hungry. Right now, a lot of brainpower is being used to figure out battery and energy solutions so that Alexa never fails to respond and the FitBit doesn’t overlook the stairwell you climbed coming back from lunch.

Consider, too, that IoT needs computer processing power as well to function. Assuming our chips survive Spectre, will IoT users get the power they need?

IoT and a New Approach to Supercomputing

IoT devices are the ultimate in wireless, on-the-go technology and its numbers are growing. Last year, Gartner forecasted there would be 20.4 billion IoT devices by 2020. More than 60% of current IoT applications are in the consumer market, but businesses will no doubt identify new uses for it and make more demands for IoT power, including processing power.

Supercomputers are the first solution most businesses and industry enthusiasts will think of. But supercomputers are expensive and consume a lot of energy. They would place IoT out of reach for many consumers and small businesses. But guess what? There is a better way: leashing the power of idle and underused processors.

The Phoenix area where I live and work is a hub of creative technological thinking, particularly in mobile and IoT.  Two years ago, I caught a presentation by Chris Mattheiu, then with Citrix, at the annual Phoenix Mobile Tech conference. He spoke about sharing unused processors to power anything that requires computing— not just IoT—although that’s what initially sparked his interest.

A new supercomputing platform uses idle or unused processing power.
Giving and taking computing power, as needed and as available.

Even to me, a non-techie who writes about mobile and IoT tech, this made sense: Create a supercomputer that doesn’t generate more processing power but uses excess power that’s just sitting around unused. IoT itself, Mattheiu pointed out, is idle 80% of the time. It doesn’t need a steady supply of processing power, but it does need a reliable one.

Mattheiu had already created the website computes.io to deliver processing power to those who need more than they have on hand. In January 2018, he announced its formal launching as a new business. Computes serves businesses and nonprofits that need additional computing power that would otherwise require buying additional resources. It can run on the cloud and deliver to any device, on any browser and through any operating system.

It’s already got one impressive customer: the University of Wisconsin, which is using Computes to find patients with early onset Parkinson’s Disease for clinical studies.

This approach to get supercomputer power without spending a lot of money is great news for smaller companies and startups, which are powering a lot of Phoenix-area tech businesses these days.

Who Needs Additional Computing Power?

In addition to the impressive size of IoT users, there are plenty of others who can use additional computing power. For me, the most obvious one is in graphic design.

As a dedicated WordPress fangirl, I am painfully aware of the amount of sheer memory graphics take up on a website. There are solutions for this terrible problem (!) but what about the folks who are creating those graphics? Artists are not generally overflowing with excess cash to buy into more Amazon cloud space, particularly for short-term projects.

Computes works for them, too, and I suspect local Phoenix-area artists and videographers will love this solution. The same goes for those working with machine learning (formerly known as artificial intelligence, or AI), another small but strong industry in these parts. Not everyone has access to the supercomputing services at ASU!

Computes is also looking to attract a “cryptocurrency” market to leverage from idle gaming systems, cryptocurrency mining—a popular activity on campus these days—and to support applications like fault tolerance, which ensures websites remain active even when there’s an issue that would normally bring a site down.

IoT devices and machine learning/AI aren’t trends anymore: they’re as permanent as data collection and mining. Even cryptocurrency keeps marching on. Their presence, and that of the next thing on the horizon, will make more demands on power, even if they don’t need it all the time.

Most of us hate wasting resources. This “mesh computer” as Computes calls it, works in a way similar to how solar power customers sell excess power back to utilities. Plus, it’s good to see a technological advance that will actually help small businesses and nonprofits better manage their resources. The fact that this great idea was hatched right here in the Valley of the Sun makes it more than a little sweeter.

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Lifestyle Marketing Mobile technology

Is Your Website Right for Mobile-First Design?

If your Google (or other) analytics show that most of your website visits come through mobile devices (usually smartphones), you may be wondering if it’s time to consider a mobile-first strategy.

Mobile-first design is gaining in popularity because mobile search has now surpassed desktop search. Younger consumers are far more likely to only use mobile devices; many don’t feel the need to buy (or upgrade) their old laptops. And according to a June Pew study, just over half of all US adults have made a purchase via smartphone. It certainly looks like mobile-first follows the way many consumers browse and buy.

Is Your Target Audience Ready for Your Mobile-First Strategy?

Still, you may want to take a close look at your target audience and loyal customers to see how, and how consistently, they use mobile devices when they visit your site. This is a very important decision to make before you embrace the mobile-first approach.

Should your e-commerce site feature a mobile first design?
Would a mobile-first site design serve your customers better?

I say this because I was quite surprised recently to discover that an e-commerce client of mine still gets most of his website visits via desktops. His business is largely paper-free—including his marketing materials—and is doing quite well with its desktop-driven B2B e-commerce site. His customers simply aren’t using mobile that often.

They understand his website is his shop and he won’t be sending them cardboard stands to put in their stores or flyers. They seem to like the emails he’s sending them, judging from the open rate (phew!). And looking at their MailChimp stats, they’re opening those emails the way they visit his website: on their laptops and who knows, maybe their desktops.

I was all set to tell him about mobile-first design but after looking at his analytics, I put this aside.

It’s easy to be persuaded that mobile-first is the way to go. Everywhere I look, articles abound about why it’s the smart way to conduct an online business. Heck, I do most of my non-business reading via mobile (usually my tablet) so it made sense to me.

Plus, online spending is expected to easily break the $100 billion mark this holiday season: $107.4 billion, Adobe Analytics exulted in November. It’s going to be a record-breaking online shopping season and mobile is leading the way!

Two-thirds of holiday online purchasing will be done on desktop in 2017.

Except it really isn’t. Further down the Adobe press release, it notes that two-thirds of online purchasing will be done on desktop, which also includes laptops that are aging along with student debt in many US households.

So before you embrace the mobile-first outlook, take a good long look at how the deal is sealed: is it on mobile or on a desktop/laptop? In other words, be certain that your target audience is ready for this switch.

All Sites Should Be Mobile-Friendly

I can’t stress this enough: if your website and especially your e-commerce website isn’t easy to navigate or read on a smartphone, you’re probably turning off some potential customers. But don’t confuse mobile-friendly with mobile-first. All websites should be mobile-friendly, period.

Google Analytics list of mobile devices used to reach a website.
Google Analytics shows what mobile devices are used to reach websites.

Google Analytics will break down the devices used to reach your website—iPads, Samsung tablets, Motorola, etc. At left is a list of mobile devices that linked to my client’s site over the past 30 days (I had to look up Ellipsis, which I now remember are Verizon tablets).

Only seven percent of his website visitors come via smartphones. Fourteen percent use tablets and 79% visit with a desktop. But his site is mobile-friendly and passes Google’s own mobile-friendly meter.

These customers are mainly interior designers and hardware stores. I suspect those coming through desktops have great big monitors for Autocad and Illustrator.

I looked at my own site’s mobile friendliness and was shocked to see it falls short here, at least according to the Google Smartbot. It was fine a few months ago, but now it’s listing problems with plugin stylesheets and scripts I’ve used for some time now and I’m careful to update. Smartbot says the content doesn’t fit on the page, but when I look at it on my smartphone and my friends’, it seems fine. I use WordPress, which requires themes to be mobile-friendly, and the smartphone preview doesn’t show viewing problems. Perhaps it’s Smartbot, and not smartphones, that’s having a problem.

That said, my Google Analytics indicates absolutely no mobile visitors over the past seven days (it rises to 13% over  30 days). Clearly, I’m not a mobile target and since this is isn’t a sales site but one that’s pretty content-heavy, I don’t see this as critical. And if Google is telling the truth, my mobile-unfriendliness doesn’t penalize my site.

What Sites are Best Suited for a Mobile-First Approach?

Smartphone shopping is growing
Shopping via smartphone is setting records.

Google ranks mobile search separate from desktop search to accommodate all the mobile users. So how can you decide if your site should take the mobile-first approach?

If visitors are overwhelmingly coming and more importantly, buying your products or services through mobile devices, your site might be a good candidate for mobile-friendly design. Tell your designer what devices appear most often, and s/he should be able to add enhancements to better serve them.

Obviously, e-commerce sites are ripe targets, provided you know the bulk of your visitors are coming to it via mobile—an incorrect assumption I had about my B2B e-commerce client.

Mobile-first design responds to customers who primarily go online through a smartphone and to a lesser extent, a tablet. Sites that sell consumer goods are probably best-suited for this. Goods like clothing, jewelry, consumables, furniture, and home accessories all sell well with lots of images and video and don’t need a ton of content that can turn off mobile users. These customers generally know what they want to buy and have already done their research. And if they are Millennials, they’re already regularly making purchases through their smartphones.

For me, the biggest concern is security. I rely on my smartphone when I’m not home. It’s crazily convenient if a bit slow. But I rarely use it to make purchases; I think I once bought movie tickets through a smartphone. That said, smartphone purchasing is exploding, but so are incidents of identity theft and fraud and I’m certain we’ll hear a lot more about this after the holiday shopping season is over.

Experts warn that smartphones using public wifi are notoriously easy to hack. You have to set your smartphone to not pick up on local free wifi; default settings are to open up to whatever’s around. Home computers, however, are far more likely to have virus protection and private, password-protected Internet access and virus protection. Tablets are as well.

Still, more people are making their purchases through their smartphones: CyberMonday 2017 set a new record for both online and smartphone purchasing.

Unfortunately, e-commerce sites can’t detect if shoppers are connecting to them through secure or open wifi. And while smart e-commerce sites make sure top-notch security is in place, they can’t protect their customers’ smartphones. What they can do is offer tips on safe, secure shopping through social media, e-newsletters, and maybe a really brief blog. If your analytics show a lot of smartphone-driven buying, do your customers a favor and remind them about securing their smartphones. You certainly don’t want a purchase from your site to coincide with their smartphones being hacked!