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Three ways to enhance your mobile web presence

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Over the last few years the use of mobile devices has more than tripled, making mobile-ready content and application development a critical part of any organisation’s digital strategy.

The Ofcom Communications Market 2011 report states that more than a quarter of the UK population owns a smartphone and almost a third of mobile users accessed internet services on their phone in the last year.

The success of Apple’s iPad and a large number of Android tablets has also boosted the mobile tablet market, and we’re going to see lots more innovation and evolution in that space.

Many businesses are simply creating mobile applications that make heavy use of their current website, which may or may not have been optimised for mobile devices. It’s certainly a fast way of getting an app out there but it doesn’t always offer the user a rich, useful, mobile-appropriate experience.

Our approach centres around understanding which aspects of your digital service could best be delivered and enhanced by a mobile application that offers valuable functionality for users and fits with your overall digital strategy.

Options for mobile

The work we’re doing with customers usually falls into the following areas:

  • Optimising a current website for mobile devices
  • Creating a dedicated mobile version (HTML5) of main site (i.e. mobile.eduserv.org.uk)
  • Building smartphone-specific applications for mobile platforms

1. Optimising for mobile with responsive design

Modify Site

Modifying your current website so it offers a good user experience to desktop and mobile visitors is the easiest and quickest solution.
The aim of this approach is to construct a format and design that has the bare minimum required to get the website to function on both desktops and mobile devices.

Factors and functionality include:

  • Altering text size accordingly
  • CSS changes to reach a rendering compromise for both Mobile and Desktop users
  • Design one column layout pages
  • Reduce the use of images without a specific functional use; avoid using images for menu/navigational purposes
  • Mandatory use of alt text for all images.
  • Avoid dynamic content that specifically require a mouse or keyboard for use.
  • Optimise the HTML for mobile use

Advantages:

  • Fast performance – good for user experience.
  • Quick and easy to implement.
  • Reduced work to convert the desktop design.
  • Good first option for to provide for desktop and mobile browsers.

Disadvantages:

  • Less feature-rich experience for users.
  • Unless content is properly structured, pages can look cluttered and give a poor user experience.

2. Dedicated mobile version

HTML 5 logo

This approach sees the creation of a completely separate installation of the current website specifically designed and optimised for mobile devices.

The domain of the site will automatically recognise the use of a mobile device and route them to a separate site usually along the lines of mobile.sitename.co.uk. This site generally is created in HTML (Version 5), and in some cases will have a reduced suite of functionality compared to that of the full site.

Content is text-based with limited use of images and dynamic content to ensure pages are compatible with mobile browsers and load quickly on slower data connections.

Advantages:

  • Improved performance through lower number of images and dynamic content.
  • Simple navigation and easier to find content.
  • Better experience for the user as the site has been specifically optimised for mobile.

Disadvantages:

  • Can involve a lot of decisions and processes to get relevant content prioritised for publishing on the new site, so can lead to delays.
  • Steeper learning curve for users if the layout is radically different to that of the main site.
  • Different technical skills to maintain the mobile site compared to the main site.

3. Smartphone specific applications (Apps)

Mobile Apps

Smartphone native application development is regarded as the ultimate experience for a mobile user. It provides an optimized journey for visitors that can make use of custom functionality and specific features for mobile users.

With the explosion in smartphone use, enhanced mobile data networks and Wifi this is becoming a preferred approach for organisations that want a mobile web presence.

The main platforms include iPhone, Android, Blackberry and Windows Phone. A lot of organisations try to simply replicate their current site into an application for one of these platforms – or worse, a smartphone application that links directly to their main website.

The most important thing to consider when choosing this approach is, what can you make that will provide a useful, engaging experience for users? How can you use mobile technologies such as Global Positioning (GPS), for example, to provide enhanced functionality? What will make this a ‘killer app’ for your audience?

Advantages:

  • An enhanced user experience
  • Potential new marketplace for your service/products (app stores)
  • Platform-specific design that’s optimized for speed and performance.
  • Incredibly light touch – minimal bandwidth usage ensures rapid rendering on smartphone devices.
  • Apps very much have a community feel to them – if designed right can encourage greater collaboration and buy-in from users.
  • Huge potential for additional services specific to mobile users/devices and will further increase with the advent of 4G.

Disadvantages:

  • Requires bespoke development.
  • Further support overhead on top of existing site.
  • Different skillset required to support and develop these applications.
  • Creating and maintaining apps for a range of platforms/devices can be time consuming.
  • A certain amount of third party verification/validation is needed to get the application listed in the relevant platform marketplace/app store.

Which route should you choose?

You might decide that you need to take advantage of each of these approaches. To help make a decision, you should consider the following points:

  • Functionality – do you want a limited or rich feature-set?
  • User experience objectives
  • User demographic i.e. city/town/country – bandwidth considerations
  • General strategic objectives for mobile web
  • Use of specific mobile functionality – i.e. GPS
  • Timeframes for development and implementation
  • Performance of mobile site
  • Design requirements
  • User profile – children, young adults, adults, elderly, all?
  • Future support and maintenance
  • Budget

How we can help with your mobile strategy

Our Web Development team can provide all of the above services for mobile web implementation in parallel with our traditional web development services (primarily .NET and Sitecore and Umbraco CMS development).

But first of all we’ll get to know your organisation’s objectives and digital strategy. We’ll talk about your requirements and together construct the most appropriate direction to maximise your mobile presence and achieve your objectives.
For application development, we can minimise the time it takes to build on multiple platforms through using a mobile development framework.
This significantly reduces the cost and timescales involved in getting your application built and ready for launch.

If you’d like to find out more about our mobile development services, why not get in touch to discuss your plans in more detail. We’ll be happy to recommend an approach specific to your business objectives and provide an estimate for you.

James Spencer

James Spencer

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