Recently, I had an interesting conversation about a variety of things with another technical writer. During the conversation, he kept insisting that technical communicators need to move to formats that can be viewed on mobile devices. And that we need to do that now.
My response was that this was a good idea, but not-so-good in practice. Without even waiting for me to elaborate, he called me a dinosaur and a Luddite. I called him something that was less than nice …
Let’s get this straight: when it comes to smartphones, tablets, and other mobile devices I don’t fear them and I don’t hate them. In fact, I’ve been using and writing about them for longer than most.
Yes, it’s true that people are (in the words of many others) consuming more and more content on mobile devices like smartphones and tablets. And, yes, you need to know your audience.
But until your customers actually start issuing those devices to employees and those employees actually use them to read documentation, then shifting to mobile formats is nothing more than a nice idea.
Building mobile-enabled documentation won’t make customers buy and deploy mobile devices. They need a bullet-proof business case before they do that. And, of course, the budget. Study after study can say that by whatever year, x% of content will be accessed using a phone or a tablet. For many technical communicators, the content that they’re producing won’t make it on to those devices until customers adopt them. With many businesses, that can be a long time in coming.
What to do until then? Definitely don’t ignore the mobile/portable space. Understand the issues surrounding how to create documentation for viewing on, and for use with, those devices. Understand the tools and the techniques. Be ready for the change. It will happen, but chances are it won’t happen as soon as many people think. That said, it could happen sooner than you expect if you jump to a new job or gig!
Thoughts? As always, feel free to leave a comment.