Mobile Burst

I use my phone far more than I use a computer these days. If you’re not already, soon, you’ll be doing the same. Yes, a huge part of this is that it’s a device that is always with you. But recently, there’s something else I’ve noticed too.

For a few services out there, I far prefer to use their apps instead of their websites. What’s interesting is that I don’t mean service that only exist as mobile apps or were built to be mobile first, I mean services that have been around for a while but have now nailed their mobile experience.

These services started on the web, but have evolved to be much more interesting as mobile applications. Two easy examples: Tumblr and Facebook.

Everyone knows that Facebook dropped the ball with regard to mobile for a long time. While the mobile usage numbers were growing, the product simply wasn’t very good. They went back to the drawing board with a “native” mindset and made what is actually a very good app. An app so good in fact, that it’s far better than their often slow, bloated website.

I rarely use Facebook through anymore. Instead, I chat with people through Messenger on mobile (both the stand-alone app and within the Facebook app), tag people and locations from the app, upload pictures from the app, and pretty much everything else. It’s a better and faster Facebook in just about every way.

Tumblr is less straightforward because the site is still very good in that it’s performant and relatively non-cluttered. But with the most recent update to their iOS app, I find myself not wanting to visit while I’m at the computer and instead waiting to use the service until I’m on my phone (or iPad, which is just the iPhone version scaled-up since they still don’t have an iPad version).

It’s something that’s almost hard to describe, but I now find myself with a sort of mental block from using these services on the web. I have this desire to close my laptop and get on my phone — even if I’m sitting at my desk — to use the services there. On mobile, they’re just a joy to use, better than the websites from which they sprung.

Some of this is a native code vs. HTML debate. (Tumblr recently remove all HTML from the iOS app.) But what makes these apps great is the performance optimization that the native code allows for mixed with re-worked user experiences for the mobile screen.

Within Tumblr’s app, for example, you can hold down the reblog button for a few seconds and it will reblog any post for you without you having to click any other buttons. You can also pinch to open images full screen and move them around. And there are other hidden gems such as sliding the compose button upwards to reveal the camera for quick photo taking and posting. You just can’t do things like that on a computer.

Nor would you want to. Captain Obvious: the mobile device is a different beast than a computer. Yes, they’re both technically computers in a sense, but form factors, available resources, and operating systems matter, amongst other things.

For a long time, services were simply trying to port their websites over to mobile apps. The results mainly sucked. This opened a huge door to “mobile first” startups, and there’s still clearly all the opportunity in the world there because again, everyone is going to be using mobile devices more and computers less.

This is and will continue to be the future for a long time to come. (Though here’s one good counter-argument.)

But any service that already has a site would be wise to develop their mobile apps from scratch, perhaps even as more of a separate startup within the company. Think about what people love to do with your service at a fundamental level, but don’t put too much weight into how they’re doing those things on the web. In fact, don’t put any weight into it. Start anew. Get creative. Delight.

This is a huge opportunity because it allows services that may already have some traction to leverage that into becoming a what I’ll cheekily rephrase as a “mobile burst” startup. That is, a service that may not have started on mobile, but one that is going to thrive on mobile.

I bet there are a huge amount of such services out there right now — massive beasts laying mainly dormant under the warm, comforting blanket of the web. Unleash them.

Disclosure: see my disclosures here. But for this post in particular, know that the venture capital firm where I’m a general partner, CrunchFund, owns shares of both Tumblr and Facebook. Tumblr, because I’m fucking addicted to it — especially on mobile now. Facebook, because investors were stupid enough to push it down to $19-a-share so I couldn’t in good conscience not buy it as a rational investor (and we own additional shares through an acquisition of one of our companies).