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Grading the GOP Presidential Candidates on Mobile

Back in the heady days of June 2011, I posted an analysis of Presidential candidates use of mobile in their campaigns.  My research showed that at that time only President Obama was making much of an effort in the mobile space.   With the end of the Republican primary in sight, and having recently done a deep dive on President Obama’s mobile optimization efforts, I figured it would be a good time to take a another look at how the remaining Republican candidates are using mobile.   This time out, I took a look at four primary criteria:

  • Does the campaign have a version of their main website optimized for mobile?
  • Does the candidate offer supporters a way to sign up for SMS updates?
  • Does the campaign have an official iPhone or Android application?

The results sort of speak for themselves.  Romney’s mobile optimized website is the only current mobile initiative by a Republican candidate.

Candidate Mobile Site Text Updates iPhone App Android App
Newt Gingrich No No No No
Ron Paul No No No No
Mitt Romney Yes No No No
Rick Santorum No No No No

Mobile Sites

While extremely simple, the Romney campaign actually has a pretty good mobile site.   The homepage design is clean and presents the user with obvious choices.  Visitors can click to get to the desktop site if they so choose.



Barack Obama and Responsive Design

President Obama campaign website on desktop, iPad and iPhone.

There is little doubt that the 2008 Obama campaign was the most sophisticated digital operation in the history of politics.  It is not really close.

Given how high the bar has been set, there was a lot of hype surrounding the November release of the 2012 version  www.barackobama.com, which features a responsive design.    Responsive designs are all the rage these days, as they allow a site to automatically resize based on the resolution of the device the visitor accesses from.  This approach prevents web developers from having to create specific versions of your site for desktops, smartphones and devices like the iPad.

When well executed, a responsive design can be a thing of beauty.  Here are some great examples, with the Andersson-Wise and Boston Globe sites being particularly impressive, albeit in vastly different ways. 

When done right, a responsive design creates compelling user experience on all devices.  Unfortunately, I don’t think the Obama site achieves that goal. 


ESPN Ups Its Mobile Game

As a sports fan and iPhone user, one of the sites I frequently access on my phone is ESPN.com.  ESPN recently launched a new mobile site for iPhones, which is more robust and app-like than just about any mobile site I’ve seen.  As a reference point, below are screenshots of the ESPN mobile site in 2008 and today.


While they may not look that different superficially, the site today is much more sophisticated and user friendly than it was in 2008.  It is all about the details:

  • The new ESPN mobile site has become much more video-focused the last few years.  As you browse the site just about every section has the option to play video on your phone.
  • In 2008, the ESPN site just featured one top story.  Now the mobile site has a Top Story slider that allows you to cycle through articles in a manner similar to the experience on www.espn.com
  • The mobile sites navigation system has been optimized to work really well for touch screens.  In 2008 it was a bit mysterious.
  • The search is featured prominently on the site today, and the results you get when searching by topic focus on delivering the most timely information first.
  • The MyESPN area allows you to customize the headlines you see by team/sport, allowing easy access to the topics you care about.

ESPN has worked hard to create a thoughtful mobile experience that focuses on getting users to the content they need without any tension.  For me, the simplicity and focus on content of the ESPN mobile site is a not reprieve from the clutter that you find on ESPN.com and other news sites. 

Are 2012 Presidential Candidates Embracing Mobile? Not So Much

We’ve all seen the stats about the explosion of the mobile web.

There are four billion mobile phones in use globally.  One billion of these are smart phones.  By 2014, more people globally will access the Internet from a mobile device than a desktop computer. 

Depending on who you talk to, mobile is either the next big thing or the big thing right now. 

Given all this, I’ve fully expected the 2012 Presidential candidates to break some ground in their use of mobile.  It is still really, really early -  many candidates haven’t launched version one of their full websites yet and mobile is a technology that lends itself to the ground game.  The cool stuff will come later. 

But taking an early look at the state of things, the situation is pretty bleak, with most candidates not even doing the basics well at this point. 

I analyzed the mobile programs of the fourteen candidates who have either formally announced or launched formal exploratory committees.  Here are the key takeaways:

  • Only three of fifteen candidates (Newt Gingrich, Roy Moore and Barack Obama) have a version of their website that is optimized for mobile.  And frankly the Roy Moore mobile site is so poorly done they would have been better off not doing it (screenshot at the bottom of the page).
  • Only four of fifteen candidates (Gary Johnson, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney) offer ways for users to sign up to receive updates via text message
  • Only one candidate (Barack Obama) has built an official campaign app that is available for the iPhone. 
  • Barack Obama is the only candidate deploying all three of these strategies.  No other candidate is using more than one. 
  • On the Republican side I expected the well funded candidate to have much more robust mobile strategies than the long shots.  This isn’t the case at this point, as none of them are really doing that much at this point.

Below is a full table showing all the relevant data, as of June 20, 2011.

Candidate Mobile Optimized Site Text Message Sign Up Mobile App for iPhone
Michelle Bachmann No Yes No*
Herman Cain No No No
Newt Gingrich Yes No No**
Jon Huntsman No No No
Gary Johnson No Yes No
Fred Karger No No No
Andy Martin No No No
Jimmy McMillan No No No**
Roy Moore Yes No No
Barack Obama Yes Yes Yes
Ron Paul No No No**
Tim Pawlenty No No No
Buddy Roemer No No No
Mitt Romney No Yes No**
Rick Santorum No No No

*Michelle Bachmann has an app for her most recent Congressional race.
**Various candidates had apps created for them by supporters or companies seeking to capitalize on their popularity. 

Like I said, it could be too early to be looking at this stuff.  Great things may be on the horizon. 

But at this point it is hard not be underwhelmed by the strategies being deployed by every candidate, with the notable exception of Barack Obama. 

Note: If I missed anything, please let me know in the comments.  I’ll update the table periodically as new candidates announce and new versions of the sites are launched.


Some Facts About Mobile

I’m not breaking any news when I write that mobile Internet usage is exploding.  This move towards mobile has a direct impact on our work here at The Bivings Group, so I’ve been following the trend very closely.   In the spirit of sharing, I figured I’d write a quick (lazy?) post highlighting some key facts about mobile I’ve come across the last few months.

  • There are  4 billion mobile phones in use globally. Of these, over one billion are smart phones.  Source 

  • Sales of smart phones grew by 96% in 2010.  Source

  • It is estimated that by 2014, more people will access the Internet via mobile phones than via desktop computers. Source

  • There are 48 million people in the world who have mobile phones, even though they do not have electricity at home. Source 

  • Estimates suggest that there will be 788 million mobile-only Internet users by 2015. Source 

  • Global mobile data traffic is projected to increase by a factor of 26 by 2015. Source 

  • What exactly are all these smart phone users doing?   81% browse the Internet, 77% search, 68% use an app, and 48% watch videos on their smartphone.

  • The most popular websites for smart phone users are search engines, social networks, retail and video sharing websites.   Source  

  • 72% of smart phone owners use their phones while consuming other media.  1/3 use their phones while watching TV. Source   

  • The average American mobile Internet user spends 2.7 hours a day socializing on their mobile device.  Source 

  • The number of videos delivered by YouTube to mobile devices tripled in 2010.  YouTube now delivers 200 millions video views each day on mobile devices.  Source

  • Starbucks reports that more than 3 million people have paid for coffee using the Starbucks Card Mobile App.  Source

  • Over 1/3 of Facebook’s 600 million user base access the site form a mobile devices. Source

  • Half of Twitter’s 150 million users access the site from a mobile device. Source