Gearing up to the mobile world – Part I

Gearing up to the mobile world – Part I

Responsive-Web-Design2Mobile apps have gained popularity like never before and there is a de-facto need for every one who is building an application to take into consideration mobile support.

Almost all kinds of applications need mobile support, be it a company corporate website, an ecommerce application, a social media application or even a static content based portal, they all need mobile support. [by mobile support, we mean support for hand-held devices. This includes mobile phones, tablets and other channels.]

Mobile support to an application comes in different flavors.

● Application designed in a responsive way to support efficient mobile access.

● Channel specific website

● An HTML5/cross platform app

● Native app

But how to best offer the overall user experience – without investing a lot of money – is something lot of companies, both big and small, continue to struggle with.

Through this series of blogs, we explore these different options and list out the common use cases for each of it. This should help you decide the best option.

We start the series with responsive web design and channel specific website.

Responsive Web design

Responsive web design, shortly referred as RWD, has become a mandate ask in almost all the internet applications that we are dealing with in recent years. The main idea of RWD is to design and implement the user interface of the application in such a way that the application interface works seamlessly across different devices including desktop browsers, mobiles and tablets.

RWD as it might sound is not just about fitting contents on a mobile screen, it’s also about making sure that functionality works in contexts and scenarios ideal for mobile. So, if you are a restaurant, your responsive site can hook into geolocation APIs to offer easy access to directions, if you have phone numbers they should be dialable, the buttons, the text entry fields, the clicks and navigation should all be responsive.

Almost all kinds of web applications that is developed, be it a company information portal, a B2C site or any application that you build can be designed and implemented by keeping the RWD aspects in mind.

It is very important to focus that the application needs to be designed in a responsive way, we are not just talking about implementation here, the visual design of the application needs to be inherently responsive so that the application that gets implemented following the responsive design patterns. A non-responsive design will not lead to a good responsive website.

While technically speaking one would be tempted to have all their applications designed as per RWD, at times RWD may be a overhead.

1. Do you already have or plan to have a separate mobile app (native / cross platform) which provides users with the information they need? If yes, then you might not need a RWD site, you may just want the user be redirected to the mobile app download page and suggest the user to download the app instead.

2. Who are your target customers? What all browsers do you wish to support? If the target customers are not accustomed to using handheld devices or if majority of your target users use older browsers (such as IE8 or other non-HTML5 compliant browsers) or have restrictions around javascript usage, then RWD may not be a best fit for you.

3. With RWD, the main idea is to use the same code which re-aligns itself based on the requesting channel. Some information could be hidden, images optimized and so on, but largely its the same code. So, if you want a totally different information and do large level of customizations based on channel, then this option is not right for you.

Channel specific site

An alternative to the responsive design approach is to have a mobile specific site, which is different from a site which is accessible via standard web browsers. With this option, you need to have a separate view for each channel you wish to support.

A common use case for this are the e-commerce sites. In e-commerce, you would want to have the users redirected to a separate mobile store which is developed keeping handheld users view in mind. You would typically want the mobile users have a different experience and information that is targeted and apt for mobile channel.

However, in a longer term, we believe that for such applications a mobile app would provide greater value than a mobile specific site. Mobile specific sites can act as a cheaper option to start with, but later you need to augment your application with a mobile app. However, this move can be based on some analytics data that you would have as part of your site. Calculate the %age mobile users, the platforms from where they are accessing and if the data is right upgrade to a mobile app.

Another scenario where you may want to consider a mobile specific site is if you already have a website running which is not responsive in nature, in the best interest of time, you might want to have a mobile specific site to support mobile channel and keep the current site in-tact. Also, it is not an easy migration from a non-responsive site to a responsive site.

Some points in favor of mobile sites:

1. Since, you have a different code set, you will be able to target the user segment better. You can now focus on information shown to desktop users separately from the information you show to mobile users.

2. When your visual designer is designing a mobile specific site, the designers have greater flexibility, since they will now target the mobile users and desktop users separately.

There are also some negative points to this:

1. You have to maintain two different versions of the app, there would definitely be reusable components, but still overall you have two apps. This adds on to the code maintenance overhead.

2. Cost of development and maintenance will be more, since you now have a separate mobile specific website to be implemented

Considering these points related to a mobile specific site, we have seen that our customers often prefer the responsive design route. Nevertheless, there are valid use cases for this kind of approach specially in the ecommerce world.

In the next blog, we will explore more on the mobile apps. We will discuss about native apps, cross-platform apps, hybrid apps a relative comparison with relevant use case examples. Stay tuned.

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