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mobileteashop

Dennis Poon's blog and ersatz portfolio.

You Need a Mobile Web Development Strategy

Mobile devices have evolved from simple voice/call handsets to powerful handheld computing devices, allowing users to perform tasks once reserved for desktop or laptop computers. In particular, mobile data and Internet applications today provide users with a truly on-demand, on-the-go degree of flexibility never experienced before.

In this post, I’ll look at some of the issues and considerations of the mobile web and why you need a distinct strategy to deal with it.

Considerations of the Mobile Web Experience

While it is tempting to treat the mobile experience as similar to the desktop or even laptop computer experience, there are several differences which affect design for the mobile user.

Screen Size

Mobile devices, by nature of being mobile, have significantly less screen real estate than any desktop or laptop browser. Consider an assumed “baseline” 1024 x 768 for desktop browsers vs. the real estate of a contemporary smartphone (e.g. an iPhone 3GS) at 320 x 480.

Even mobile devices supporting increasingly-high pixel resolutions will eventually reach an absolute physical screen restriction (after which, they cease to be ‘mobile’).

User Input

User input and interface options are limited and/or operate on a different paradigm on mobile devices. Where a computer user has a full keyboard and mouse/touchpad, the mobile user will have a smaller keyboard (if at all), touch screen, or worse, a handful phone cursor keys and a numeric keypad for input.

With the rising prevalence of touch as the dominant mobile device interface, its associated conventions (e.g. tap, swipe, pinch) will likely need to be incorporated into web development.

Processing Power

While mobile devices continue to advance in processing power, ultimately they will lag behind full size devices in computing performance. Applications designed for processor and memory requirements of desktop computers can suffer even if they run successfully on a mobile device. This is particularly true of the JavaScript-heavy Web 2.0 applications popular today.

Network Bandwidth & Latency

Even though wireless data networks continue to improve, responsiveness to data-heavy applications is very noticeable in areas with poor reception or on legacy mobile devices operating on older data standards.

Mechanics that we take for granted on the traditional web - unlimited remote resources (images, CSS files, script files), and as much AJAX as you can eat - can cause serious issues for a mobile web user.

Browser Standards

While this can only continue to improve, mobile browser support of advanced web features (such as CSS3, Flash, and JavaScript) may be reduced or incomplete. This problem is compounded by the range of devices currently in use in the wild, and the continued popularity of feature phones.

“Being Mobile” – the Mobile Use Case

The mobile user him/herself is under a different set of surrounding circumstances and has user expectations.

The mobile user is typically on the move and trying to perform a task urgently. They may not even have the comfort of sitting down or even standing still when trying to get things done. Understanding the motiviations and new use cases associated with the mobile user is paramount.

Takeaway

From interface, to hardware, to use cases, mobile devices present unique challenges to the web developer. A distinct strategy is required to deal with mobile web developement.