Choosing the right mobile website solution
By Leigh on 3 June 2012
Unless you've been living under a rock in Tasmania you can't have missed the fact that in recent years the internet has left our computer screens and our darkened spare rooms and now follows us wherever we go. Webpages are viewed on every size screen from giant tv's to tiny devices in our pockets. On my daily commute I experience trains and buses full of people browsing the web on a variety of different devices, these are not just kids reading Justin Bieber's tweets but every demographic from your 50 year old office worker shopping road bikes to your 30 something hipster looking for the best soy latte. I think it's fair to say that no matter what industry you operate in, some if not many of your customers will be viewing your website away from the mouse and 17" screen.
Now once you've made the decision to optimise your site for mobile you then have to decide which route to go and there is no right answer because it depends on your circumstances. Each of the methods has pros and cons as outlined below:
There are a lot of statistics floating around the web for mobile usage that vary widely but one trend that is repeated on all of them is the relative growth of mobile web usage vs desktop. Taking a look at Microsoft's statistics they predict mobile browsing to overtake desktop by 2014. Now if you are a business that operates locally you may be interested to know this has already happened as one half of all local searches are performed on a mobile device.
Create a native app (Apple Store/Android Marketplace)
We will discuss the native app option first because it is the easiest decision to make. So this involves the creation of an application available from Apples App Store or the Android marketplace. In recent years this has been a very popular option for a number of companies that see having an app available to download as a badge of honour.
- You get an extra layer of polish on the user experience that a html website can't deliver.
- If installed your apps icon being visible on the users system is great advertising.
- You are less constrained with bandwidth as the core of the website/application is downloaded upfront. This means you can deliver better quality content.
- Expensive to develop. Unfortunately there is huge gap between the number of people with the skills to build native apps and the demand for them.
- The timelines will be considerably longer than building an html version. Apart from the additional development time required after everything has been built there is also the renowned Apple app approval process, which can add months onto the time it takes to get your finished product out there.
- Changes to your application might only take a minute to make but require going back through the Apple approval process and then relies on the user manually downloading the update.
- Required to build a separate app for each operating system, at the moment that's mainly Apple and Android but Windows will take a big share of the market in the coming year.
- You will probably still need to make your existing website work for mobile users that do not wish to download your app.
A Standalone Mobile site (second site with 'm.' prefix)
A standalone mobile site is a mobile friendly website that runs in parallel with your main website. The system tries to detect if your viewing the site on a mobile and it redirects you to the mobile version.
- With the whole site specifically targeted at mobiles the user interface can be reworked to maximise the experience for small windows and fat fingers.
- These sites are the easiest to build of the 3 options and as such should save you some money and time.
- The user should receive a fast experience, as they are not being served large content designed for bigger screens.
- As easy to update as maintaining any other website
- As it is a separate site to your main website any changes to one would have to be represented in the other.
- Not really designed for scaling to sizes outside of the smartphone realm, e.g iPad and up.
- The browser detection system for redirecting the user to the mobile site is never 100% accurate so there may be a small amount of users who find themselves on the mobile site when are using something larger and vice versa. In that instance those people will have to click a link to get back to the correct view for them.
Design your website to be responsive (One site, many sizes)
A fully responsive website is just a normal website that grows and shrinks with your browser window. On the minor scale you will see spacing shrink and grow but or a more thought out design elements can be set to hide or show giving the impression of a unique custom interface.
- There is just the one site so this option makes it the easiest for updating your website.
- The site reshapes for each size so that the same site can work on a 30" widescreen TV as well as the smallest smartphone and everything in between.
- As it is a single site the mobile users will still get served the full size content, which can slow down their connection.
- Not everything looks perfect when scaled, if you need your icons and images to look 100% pixel perfect this might not be the case.
- Can take a lot of work and browser testing to construct something that gives a consistent experience across all sizes and all displays.