Is your business prepared for multiple platforms?
By Emma Willis
Why mobile matters
Everywhere you look these days, statistics about the growth of the mobile web abound. There are currently more mobile devices in the UK than people, and for many users a smartphone is their preferred means of accessing the internet.
In line with increasing prominence, user expectations of the mobile platform have also risen exponentially. In light of these trends, organisations can no longer afford to ignore mobile, and need to think about how they can deliver tailored, quality experiences via these devices.
Finding the best solution
Even when the importance of mobile is understood by an organisation, they may still be daunted by the number of different approaches that need to be assessed before deciding on a strategy. While the individual requirements of your business and the needs of your users will ultimately determine the best solution (more on this later), it’s worth considering some of the general benefits and drawbacks of popular approaches:
- Building a mobile-optimised site (seen, for example, at m.facebook.com or m.guardian.co.uk) provides mobile users with a tailored layout, navigational structure and content across popular operating systems, and ensures reliable site performance through the removal of desktop-specific features and functionality.
- However, having a separate mobile presence can lead to content siloes and inefficiencies through duplication of effort (although this problem is greatly lessened through the use of a Content Management System, which can dynamically push a single piece of content to different pages or sites).
- Additionally, if you want to reach out through other devices such as tablets, each of these will require their own optimised site, multiplying the time and cost required.
- Native applications can take advantage of in-built device features, such as geo-location, video and audio recording etc.
- This approach does require significant overhead though, as a different application will need to be designed and developed for each operating system (for more information please see the Box UK blog post on the recipe for mobile app success).
- Building a native app also ties you to the requirements and regulations of a specific operating system. You are at their mercy when submitting an app to their store; and most of these companies will also take a large percentage from any in-app purchases.
Responsive web design – a growing approach
An emerging solution to meeting the needs of users on disparate devices is responsive web design. This approach is based around a fluid framework that detects and automatically adapts to the device being used. Navigation, layout and styling is usually tailored to the most common device ‘breakpoints’ (typically desktop, tablet and smartphone), ensuring an optimised yet consistent user experience across all platforms. Developing responsively can deliver many benefits, reducing operational inefficiencies and expensive overheads while increasing user engagement across all platforms by providing a unified, cross-channel solution.
There are already many high-profile examples of organisations using responsive web design successfully, such as the Boston Globe, Lancaster University and Ubuntu One, and we are also seeing our own clients increasingly embracing responsive approaches to meet the diverse needs of their audience. Combining a clearly defined development strategy with a scalable CMS and responsive page editor (see our article on the creation of the responsive TFM&A site for a video of Amaxus’ page editor in action) enables organisations to guarantee they’re delivering content in a clear, consistent format while maintaining a single delivery platform and content repository.
Responsive web design enables you to future-proof your web strategy, easily incorporating new devices and even platforms (for example, internet-enabled TVs). To guide your priorities and design decisions however, you should know how users are already accessing your site. For example, if you have a largely smartphone-based audience you might want to develop a responsive site, but take a “mobile first” approach to design to guarantee that the primary user needs are met while still allowing numerous other devices to easily access content.
Conducting a detailed user research phase before embarking on any mobile project will reveal important user behaviour and motivation, showing how they currently interact with your site and on which devices. This research should inform your overall mobile strategy, including whether designing responsively is the right approach to take at all.
If you’d like to find out more about mobile development the Box UK website has a blog post on the mobile revolution and the options available. There you can also find blog post on responsive web design and its benefits. Alternatively, get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org where one of our team will be happy to discuss your individual requirements.