Going mobile

The ContentEssentials site was recently redesigned to provide better support for mobile devices, such as smart phones and tablets.  Is it time to think about making your site mobile-friendly?

Mobile devices are being increasingly used to access websites, and this trend will only continue. The uptake of mobile devices around the world is phenomenal. For many people these devices will become the main way of accessing the internet. But the vast majority of existing websites are designed to be accessed from large screen desktop computers. Many either require constant zooming and panning, look awful, or just don’t work on mobile devices.

So what are the options for going mobile?

Mobile-friendly websites

There are a few options for creating mobile friendly websites:

  • Responsive web design: This involves designing the website in such a way that it will work, and look good on different size screens. This can be achieved through techniques such as scaling different aspects of the design for different sized screens, and not displaying non-essential content on smaller screens.
  • Serving different web pages from the same web address: This involves the web server determining what type of device is being used and serving up web pages designed for that type of device.
  • Mobile-only websites: This involves having a completely different website designed to suit mobile devices.

All approaches have their advantages and disadvantages, and ultimately you need to choose the best approach for your particular circumstances.

The advantages of responsive web design

That said, there are clear advantages to the responsive design approach (which is the one adopted for the ContentEssentials site):

  • It involves less development and maintenance overhead than the other two options (and so generally is more cost-effective).
  • It keeps the website experience reasonably consistent for the user, regardless of the device they are viewing it on.
  • Arguably, designing a site that will work on small-screen devices makes you think more about what you really need on your website (and what you don’t need), resulting in a leaner and faster experience for all users.
  • It is probably the best approach from a search engine optimisation point of view. It is the approach recommended by Google.

If you have a well-established existing site that you aren’t ready to redesign yet, then it might be worth considering developing an additional mobile-only site. But if you are considering developing a new website, responsive web design will almost certainly be the way to go.

Mobile apps

Apps (short for applications) are a very popular means of delivering content and services on mobile devices. Apps differ from website solutions in that an app is actually a computer program designed to run on a particular type of device.

The advantages of mobile apps

There are a some advantages to providing your content or service through mobile apps:

  • Apps are popular with users and having a mobile app can make a business seem ‘switched on’.
  • Most mobile apps are specific to a device platform such as Apple’s iOS platform for iPhones and iPads, or the Android platform. This means they can be designed to take advantage of the particular features of that platform. As a result, a well-designed app can be very easy to use.

The disadvantages of mobile apps

While they have their advantages, mobile apps do present problems for organisations that choose to provide their content or services in this way.

  • The fact that apps are generally designed for a specific platform means that you have to develop multiple apps if you want them to work across a range of popular devices. This means significantly greater development and maintenance costs.
  • Alternatively, if you decide to support only one platform you will be denying access to your content to a significant percentage of your potential audience. 

It is possible to design and build apps that work across multiple platforms, using web technologies such as HTML5 and JavaScript. The problem with this approach is that they are less fine-tuned to the features of specific platforms, which takes away some of the advantage of building an app in the first place.

Are mobile apps worth it?

Before making the decision that you want a mobile app you need to consider that it will either be relatively expensive (if you choose to support multiple platforms), or will alienate potential customers (that use devices you choose not to support). 

There are undoubtedly some situations where a mobile app will be the best option for providing a service to your customers, but if a well designed mobile-friendly site will meet both your, and your customers, needs, it may well be the better option.

Published: Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Last updated: Wednesday, 17 July 2013