A May 2013 study by Pew Internet shows that 55% of cell phone owners use the Internet on their phones, and 17% percent are using a phone for most of their Web browsing. The spike in mobile traffic has been fueled by a proliferation of smartphones and tablets. And since mobile devices are here to stay, agencies need to have a full understanding of the available options to effectively deliver client content.
▶ Understanding the problems. When Apple launched the smartphone revolution with the iPhone, it realized that the small screen would only show a tiny corner of most existing websites. To get around this, it implemented a “scaling” technique, which shrinks the website down to fit the width of the tiny screen. At that point, a person can zoom in on images or text to see details.
The problem with this approach is that many websites are illegible when scaled down, so using them involves a lot of frustrating zooming and scrolling.
In addition, navigation can be difficult, and mobile site visitors often have dramatically different needs and goals.
If a client wants to optimize its website for mobile browsing, scaling is a band-aid at best. There are currently three alternative approaches, which all offer different advantages and disadvantages.
▶ The mobile site. This approach redirects a site visitor from www.example.com to a specialized sub-site, such as m.example.com, where the site can be customized for an ideal mobile experience. This approach predates the smartphone, and until recently, was a luxury that only well-funded sites could afford.
Ability to customize presentation and content
• Usually built to a very small, fixed width
• Often requires separate maintenance budget
• Links to and from mobile sites often fail
• Separate sites with duplicate content present a wide array of SEO problems
The pure mobile site is in decline these days because there are simply too many devices and screen sizes to accommodate for. Trying to develop and maintain separate mobile, tablet and desktop sites would quickly become a losing battle.
▶ The App. Starting with the iPhone, and later Google’s Android operating system, native apps began to take the place of many mobile sites. They offer a fully customized user experience (UX), specifically tailored to a device. Since they operate as a standalone program, they can take advantage of each device’s speed and optimization tools, and adapt to larger screen sizes.
• Complete control over UX
• Ideal for sensitive user data
• Most expensive and time-consuming option
• Requires separate maintenance
• Must convince users to download and use it
• Does not obviate the need for mobile website solution
The security and speed of an app make them a valuable asset when a site is so complex that the experience would be compromised by the smaller screen and limited memory of a mobile device.
▶ The ‘Responsive’ website. The newest entry into the realm of mobile devices is a development technique called “responsive design.” The term was coined in 2010 by Ethan Marcotte, and it works by detecting the size of the device, or screen, and adjusting the website accordingly.
• No separate maintenance costs
• Lowest cost to implement
• Adapts to screen width, making it largely future-proof
• Can be retrofitted to existing sites
• No more secure than a standard website
• Not 100% customizable
• Complex sites/applications can be difficult to optimize
A responsive website adds some overhead to initial site development costs, since it requires additional designs, build time and testing, but can eliminate the need for a mobile site or native app in many situations.
The growth of mobile Internet use has implications for all companies that have an online presence. As more websites implement effective mobile solutions, mobile users will grow to expect an optimal experience. Companies that fail to invest in mobile do so at their peril. PRN
This article appeared in the October 14 issue of PR News. Subscribe to PR News today to receive weekly comprehensive coverage of the most fundamental PR topics from visual storytelling to crisis management to media training.