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The Mobile Web's Unique Benefits
Mobile provides several benefits for users and developers.
- Mobility: Mobile devices allow individuals to access the information they need from essentially any location at anytime. Phones are the most portable Internet-capable devices available, and most users are already comfortable and accustomed to carrying their phones wherever they go. Although laptops and tablets offer significantly more portability than desktop computers, most users do not carry them at all times (nor would they want to) as they do not comfortably fit in one’s pocket. Also, most laptops and tablets demand that the user be connected to the Internet through either a LAN or Wi-Fi connection, which is not always an option, especially when one is on the go.
- Fast, targeted access: Because most phones users always keep their phones on, access to the web on mobile devices is nearly instantaneous. Users do not have to wait through a long boot-up process, and the impact of immediate web access from almost any location is significant. For legal aid programs, this means that clients will be able access an organization's website at critical moments. Users can simply enter a URL into their phone's browsers as their legal issue emerges or as they take steps to try and resolve it. Mobile also provides more opportunities for legal aid offices to engage in "preventative legal help," where users receive important legal information that helps prevent a legal problem before it fully emerges. The new Statewide Lawhelp mobile sites, for instance, will include mobile adapted content specific to the most commonly asked legal questions in their area. The idea is that potential clients will use their mobile devices in case of emergencies or in situations in which they are unable to call a legal helpline or look up content via a computer. Mobile provides many other opportunities to assist clients. Important appointment reminders can be sent directly to users' mobile devices, and more sophisticated phones allow users to access resources such as consumer legal aid instructional videos while they are on the go. Also, providers may be able to use location-based information to provide important resources to communities that have a high occurrence of a particular legal issue. For example, CitizenWorks has a SMS based initiative that customizes legal resources based on the zip code that the user texts their database.
- Privacy: Although portability and instantaneous access are probably the most significant mobile benefits, phones also provide a more personal user experience than other Internet-enabled devices. Many people share desktop computers with family members or co-workers, which may make these individuals reluctant to access information they feel is private or embarrassing, such as websites dedicated to solving legal problems. Mobile devices, however, are often only used by the owner and might provide a better solution for accessing more personal information.
- GPS and phone-specific features: Mobile also offers features that are generally not available through the desktop web. For instance, many mobile sites include a directory that allows users to locate a particular phone number and then automatically call it using their phone. More sophisticated devices might also allow sites to tap into the phone's geolocation system and provide detailed directions to a specific destination, such as a courthouse or legal aid office.
- Technological momentum: The mobile web has the advantage of being an innovative, emerging field that is attracting talented developers. The last few years saw a huge influx of talent into mobile development and mobile apps are playing an ever-growing role in mobile usage. Illinois Legal Aid Online has gone so far to release their own mobile app in 2011 that is now available for the iPhone and Droid.