Picture someone walking a dog only replace the dog with a mobile device – a cell phone, a tablet. Humorous image isn’t it? But the reality, says Anup Murarka of Adobe, is that people tend to be tied to their mobile devices. Some may even say they love them as much as the family pet. Mobile devices are rather personal whereas a household computer is often shared – and let’s face it, a household computer can’t go on that walk with you.
In this interview, Anup Murarka, Director of Product Marketing for Flash at Adobe, spoke with Brent Leary about how small business owners need to think outside the box to engage customers with an exciting personal experience – the warm and fuzzy kind.
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Small Business Trends: Tell us a little bit about your background.
Anup Murarka: My background is in mobile software, video games and consumer technologies. At Adobe, I focus on how we make the process of creating mobile applications for content easier. The technology has moved so far from where we were just a few years ago that there is not only an exciting opportunity for companies to reach out to new audiences, but also a lot of choices of what to use to build the mobile experience.
Anup Murarka: This explosion of screens has meant that consumers expect access to content and services wherever they are, and have much higher expectations for the quality of that experience.
Small Business Trends: You said opportunities for engagement have exploded because of mobile devices. Do you think small businesses are taking advantage of that opportunity?
Anup Murarka: Small businesses have a tremendous number of challenges just growing their current business, so mobile is often underutilized. Mobile devices–phones and tablets–tend to be tied to an individual, unlike household computers that are often shared. With [mobile], you have an opportunity as a small business owner to reach an individual on a one-on-one basis anywhere in the world. That’s a powerful tool.
Small Business Trends: How important is it for a company to have a good mobile experience for customers? A lot of small businesses still think of the Web as being their central point, but it seems the best way to get people’s attention is through a mobile device.
Anup Murarka: If you have not thought about mobile, your competitors will. You have an opportunity to interact with that customer far more regularly if you have a mobile experience. For the last 12 to 18 months we have been recommending that a lot of our customers start with mobile designs first. If you start with a mobile design, it’s pretty easy to take that design, concept or application and move it to the desktop.
Small Business Trends: That is a totally different way for a lot of small businesses to think. What are some things they should be aware of as they begin down this road?
Anup Murarka: You cannot think of it as “create a piece of content, and you’re done” or “create an application, and you’re done.” The problems haven’t changed from the traditional problems when you try to attract customers in the physical realm.
You have to think about how you marketing yourself. How do you ensure that the experience is high enough quality that consumers come back to it? How do you keep it fresh and tied to what you are doing day-to-day in your business?
Have you thought through, not just the cost of building it, but also the cost of maintaining it, the cost of keeping it fresh, the cost of keeping it in front of customers and getting feedback from customers? If you can plan in a complete fashion, you are going to be far happier with your mobile app.
Small Business Trends: One of the decisions businesses have to make is whether to create a mobile Web app that runs in the browser or a native app. How do you choose?
Anup Murarka: It’s a choice between trying to reach people with a less deep or less interactive experience versus a standalone application that can be purchased and offers a deeper level of engagement. The mobile website is often an extension of your desktop website. You are trying to provide continuity and [similar] information so that a consumer who is used to going to your desktop website has a comfort level.
But when you want that customer to really engage and interact, you are likely to want an application experience. So you’re using the mobile website as a hook, but using an application to get them engaged on an ongoing basis [because it] is always available, even when they are offline.
Small Business Trends: We also have different platforms–Apple iOS, Android; we have phones and tablets. What are some things to be aware of regarding different footprints and platforms?
Anup Murarka: This is a big design and technology challenge, but it is something you can take practical steps to address. You want a sense of what types of devices [your] customers have, versus trying to think you are going to solve all of them by getting everywhere right away. Particularly as a small business, you have to make choices.
The experiences can be very different because of the form factors to these devices. What you do on a phone is different than what you do on a tablet, what you do on a desktop, what you do on a television. This explosion in screens means you want to be looking for technologies that help you get that reach, so you do not have to reinvent and reinvest in every instance.
We don’t think that scales very well. Trying to do an app for 20 different devices is expensive, frustrating and challenging to manage. Instead, look for technologies–whether Flash or HTML–that can deliver consistently across a wider range of platforms.
Small Business Trends: Flash is really prevalent on the Web. Where does Flash fit in when it comes to mobile application development?
Anup Murarka: Even with our long history of Flash and even mobile development, we have really entered into a new area over the last year and a half. Flash is available in over 140 million devices, smartphones and tablets around the world. If you use Flash to build an application, not just within a website, you can reach not only all of those Android devices, BlackBerry Playbooks and other platforms, but also iOS. You can deliver a Flash-based application to well over 200 million devices worldwide.
Small Business Trends: We have heard a lot about HTML5 recently. Where do you see HTML5 and Flash working in mobile?
Anup Murarka: Flash and HTML have lived side by side for many years. As HTML standards evolve, Flash will continue to be at the forefront of creating the most rich and unique experiences on the Web.
Going forward we think Flash is going to be differentiated in three ways. One is for the sort of media-rich, heavy video applications with lots of interactivity, just as [Flash] is popular for video today on the desktop Web.
A second category we are really excited about is games. Flash is powering nine if not 10 of the top 10 Facebook games. Social games has been a tremendous category, and we have an opportunity to make those games available on a mobile device–without forcing the game publisher to re-author their content. We have a set of new features we will be announcing in the next year specifically for game publishers.
The third is what we call data-driven applications — applications that need visualization such as dashboards, charts and graphs. Customer experience and customer relationship management [is] the type of application where Flash could really differentiate itself.
Small Business Trends: How do you measure the impact of mobile content?
Anup Murarka: So many times we see companies put something out there without understanding how it is used or if it is used. That means more than just Web traffic or visits to a page or downloads of an app. It means understanding where consumers are spending time with that content. Are they spending a few minutes looking at it and then going off to something else? If it is an application, are there certain aspects that they come back to on a daily basis, and others they tried once and never went back to?
We have been building a lot of this capability into a product we have for digital marketers from Omniture. It allows our customers to not just look at what a single Web page does, but also at how individual elements within a page are doing, and to try out different content in an application.
Small Business Trends: How soon do you think [mobile] is going to go from “nice to have” to “must have”?
Anup Murarka: If it’s not already a must-have for a business, it is going to be a must-have within the next five years. [A company] may decide for whatever reason that they can’t make the investment in mobile right away, but they at least have to make that conscious decision.
Small Business Trends: Where can people learn more about what Adobe is doing in this area?
Anup Murarka: The Adobe.com website is a great starting point and has a number of resources, including resources to connect small businesses to our agency partners.
This interview is part of our One on One series of conversations with some of the most thought-provoking entrepreneurs, authors and experts in business today. This interview has been edited for publication. To hear audio of the full interview, click the right arrow on the gray player below. You can also see more interviews in our interview series.
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