The first hit I got when Googling “Is mobile first still relevant?” was a discussion post on Stackexchange.com. The kicker: the year it was posted was 2014. It seemed odd, given the rise of tablets, the proliferation of smartphones (do flip-phones exist anywhere outside of D.o.D. contractors and civil service?), and the soon-to-be-released Apple iWatch in early 2015. Of course “mobile first” was still relevant! It was 2014! Devices were “it” and laptops were as ancient as desktop PCs.
Scrolling through some of the other links on Google regarding my initial query, I began to notice the question of mobile first and its relevance was on the rise, some even going so far to suggest the approach was “outmoded” and “simply not good enough.” These links were for articles and posts with more recent dates — within the last year. One of the more interesting articles asserted the reason mobile first may already be outdated is due to the fact the majority of mobile apps are trending for use on large screens. It’s not the device that matters, but rather the screen. Unlike what was trending in the late ’90s/early00’s, our phones are not getting smaller. They’re getting larger to accommodate bigger displays and to allow us to do more without relying on the traditional PC. Yet even though our cell phone screens are getting bigger, they simply cannot allow the amount of information on the screen as a PC or even tablet.
Mobile-first design isn’t, in itself, the right answer. It’s just an efficient answer. — James Archer
One would think a mobile first approach would make the overall site design more efficient, logically paring away what may be redundant or unnecessary. However, as James Archer notes in his post Why is it so Easy to Get “Mobile First” Wrong, when this approach is applied to anything other than a mobile device, progressive enhancement — taking a mobile design and applying it to larger devices — can have a negative impact on the user. Oversimplification ends up overcomplicating. The example Archer used was Adobe Acrobat’s interface redesign. Adobe had approached it with a mobile first frame of mind.
I think one of the major pitfalls when it comes to a “mobile first” mentality, is that it easily eclipses all else, as with Adobe. The layout surpasses the functionality in importance. Mobile first still has its use today, given the number of devices we’re connected to; however it’s important for designers and developers to remember a mobile first approach is not always the solution, especially when dealing with platforms that are not mobile.