Here are some quick thoughts on mobile. I know a lot of this will be preaching to the choir, but it’s something that is worth a reminder. I’m going to hit briefly on a couple of things, the first being the difference between mobile friendly, optimized and responsive and the second being native apps vs HTML5.
Are you friendly, optimized, or responsive?
First point on this subject is that people need to understand what the difference is. Let’s take ‘mobile friendly’. Mobile friendly is the most simple of the three. Make your website for desktop, but make sure it’s fully usable and viewable on mobile. So, this means nothing like Flash can be used, as an example. The other thing with mobile friendly sites is that they use the same navigation and display as the desktop version. What this means for the user on mobile, is that they’ll need to do things like zoom to read text, or use menu items – especially if you’ve not got the most thing on fingers – and scroll a lot, once zoomed. This isn’t the best solution, but it works and the user gets the benefit of the full desktop website.
If you want a website mobile optimized, it’s a different thing. The idea of a mobile optimized website, is that of designing the site in a way that is comfortable and easy to use on a mobile device. What does this mean for the user? It means that they do not have the cumbersome experience, of zooming, pinching, scrolling etc, that you would have from a friendly version.
The third solution is to have a responsive (or adaptive) design for you website. How is this different to an optimized version? Well the main element here, is that mobile devices come in all shapes and sizes, from tablets to smartphones and we need to cater for all. This means having multiple templates for the design, both for portrait and landscape. One should remember that one of those templates should be designed for desktop, as we don’t have a separate desktop version for a responsive site. This will mean that the user will have a similar, if not the same experience from desktop to tablet, for example and for smartphones all of the site will be available in a familiar design to the desktop version that they may have experienced at home, or at work.
There is now one additional thing for everyone to consider and that’s the news that Google have changed their mobile search algorithm. The new algorithm takes the three different mobile website types into consideration for ranking. From now on, if you search through Google on your mobile device, any site that has been indexed and is not optimized, or responsive, will be demoted in the search results and ranking. This means that there is a danger that your site will drop off people’s radars, if it’s not pre-prepared.
Another point of interest is the growing use of mobile usage. A lot and in some cases the majority, of website use is now from mobile devices. This varies from country to country, but this growing trend means that you cannot risk losing website visitors, due to the fact that you’ve not considered mobile. In addition, platforms such as Facebook and YouTube are heavily promoting their responsive capabilities for apps and gadgets.
‘Mobile First’ has been a phrase that’s been mentioned a lot over the last few years, but it’s now a vital part of design and build. Designers will need to be fully clued up on optimized and responsive design and companies will need to bite the bullet and spend the money for website builds. Let’s make it clear, it is a longer UX, design and build process to create a responsive website, but in the long term, it’s worth the commitment and investment up front.
Are you a native?
This is another interesting debate, whether mobile apps should be native or web based. For a native app, the development process will use a programming language that is native to the device, so for example, for Apple devices using iOS, objective C will be the programming language used. For web-based apps, the choice of the moment is HTML5, which is more platform agnostic, than using objective C for iOS, or JAVA for Android.
HTML5 sounds really interesting on the surface, as it’s flexible enough for an app to be built once, for multiple platforms. If you build an app using objective C and want to use the app on an android device, you’re going to have to rebuild it. A HTML5 app is easier to distribute – for the most part – than using the stores available or mobile apps.
However, there are disadvantages for the HTML5 app developer. Much of the functionality of a device is not usable from HML5, as the APIs are just not complete. That means for those wanting to use things like the camera, GPS and accelerator, there’s no option aside from developing a native version.
So which way do you go, right now? Well I think it’s a big clue that people like Mark Zuckerburg have said that Facebook wasted two years on HTML5, before switching to native, although he did also say that he’s still excited about HTML5, but it’s just not there yet. My opinion is, as it stands, that native is the way to create the most engaging mobile apps, at least for now and the near future.