Online reporting goes mobile.

How mobile Internet use affects online reporting.

Without doubt, the mobile web must be considered when targeting the right channels for your future online communication. The advent of tablets and smartphones has spurred an increasing appetite for mobile-optimised web content. In 2012, the percentage of German users browsing the Internet with their mobile devices increased to 23 percent. What’s more, PWC estimates mobile devices will overtake traditional desktop usage on the Internet by 2016.

Usage of annual reports through mobile devices doubled from 2011 to 2012!

nexxar statistics on devices used to access HTML annual reports (n=30)
Source: nexxar statistics on devices used to access HTML annual reports (n=30)

A catalyst for HTML Annual Reports

The key questions are:

  1. 1. Will the appetite to present annual report content in HTML accelerate?
  2. 2. Will the annual report of the future be read page by page on an iPhone?

In my opinion, the answer to the first question will definitely be “yes.” If you want the contents of an annual report to be best viewed on any web browser it has to be converted into the language of the Internet, and that’s hypertext markup language (HTML). Mobile web requires HTML.

The answer to the second question is probably “no,” if one thinks about how annual reports are used. Annual report content simply isn’t read page by page. This is true for printed reports and even more so online. The online medium is primarily a research channel. A typical online annual report user clicks 5 to 8 times in an online annual report. On mobile devices, this average is even lower!

What mobile devices should you consider?

When talking about mobile devices, you should distinguish between tablets and smartphones. There are huge differences in usage related to screen size and weight. While traditionally designed websites are displayed quite well on tablets, they are very hard to use on a smartphone screen. Different needs lead to different approaches in how to best serve these mobile devices. The key factors we consider in designing a site are the following:


  • big screen
  • offline use
  • image/design-driven


  • small screen
  • online use
  • content/information-driven


My advice is to deliver an offline-usable app for the iPad and a mobile-optimised website for other tablets and smartphones. For the rest of this blog, I would like to focus on smartphone-optimised reporting. If you are interested in reading more about our thoughts on tablet (iPad) reporting apps, please refer to a recent blog post (in German) from my colleague Goran.

What is the use case for a smartphone annual report?

According to a recent Google study on “The Mobile Movement. Understanding Smartphone Users” (, the main reason for web usage on smartphones is to get information on the go. Smartphones have thus become an indispensable tool for online research. Unlike normal desktop research, it’s more urgent and selective. The key entry point is a web search engine, e.g., Google. It is all about getting instant answers to vital questions, rather than leaning back and enjoying the narrative of an annual report. This setting seems a perfect fit for SEO-optimised full HTML annual reports!

Full or condensed mobile version?

In the past few years, some companies have designed bespoken mobile annual report websites. These sites generally assume that only 20 percent of content is of interest to mobile users, applying the so-called “80/20” rule. But in the process of stripping down content to just 20 percent of the full annual report, they take a lot away from the mobile use case they were built for.

Only a full mobile version of an annual report offers users the necessary level of choice. If mobile users will not find what they are looking for in a condensed smartphone version they will switch back and rather scroll and zoom to find what they are looking for in the full desktop version.

Why is responsive design the best solution for all displays?

How responsive design works different screen widths
How responsive design works different screen widths

The challenge with optimising a comprehensive annual report for smartphones is that there are a range of operating systems and screen sizes. The best and most cost-effective solution is responsive design. Responsive design ensures that the layout of a website is reshaped automatically to the available screen size—the content stays exactly the same. This leads to the following essential advantages:

  • No separate communication concept
  • No additional implementation process (no extra sign off)
  • URL stays same – there is no “competition for attention” between the mobile and desktop version
  • Lower costs than a separate mobile version

Show case responsive design.
Have a look at how we have implemented the Shell Sustainability Report 2011 using a responsive design approach. The layout of the report adapts automatically to the available display size of the respective device that is browsing the report.

This blog post is an extract of our recent positioning paper on mobile reporting published in our lab. If you are interested to receive a PDF version of this paper, please email us at

If you have any questions or comments, please leave a reply below.


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