It is no surprise that one of the largest ways that people are viewing online content is via mobile and hand-held devices. The Australian Communications and Media Authority stated that “Smartphones are increasingly core to Australians’ communications choices, with 11.19 million smartphone users in Australia at May 2013, up 29 per cent since May 2012.”
This switch to mobile and hand-held devices has created an increased demand from users (audiences and consumers) for mobile ready content, spawning an exponential increase in app development. As with the rise of websites in the 90s and early noughties, there is evidentially a wildly diverse range of approaches, resulting in some fantastic apps as well as some duds. I shudder when I think back to all those Flash websites: designers loved making them despite the fact they were not accessible, sucked a lot of bandwidth, and negated the importance of content. Now there seems to be another wave of designer driven mobile ‘solutions’, which arguably are not solutions at all – for the same reasons – lack of accessibility, lack of focus on user-centred design and a negation of the role of content.
Do you need an app?
This is a big question and one that needs to be considered carefully before choosing a solution. Some questions to ask:
- Is the app for a specific purpose e.g. a project or to access data sets?
- Do you want an app to do the same thing as your website?
- Do you only want people with certain devices to access the app?
Some shorthand answers to these questions. If you just want to recreate your website for mobile then my recommendation is that you go with a responsive design, this solution will offer you an experience for your audience that is robust and flexible, one that will not discriminate on what hardware your audience uses. Don’t cut off your nose to spite your face. If you want to miss out on the burgeoning Android market, by all means go ahead and be convinced by the developer to create the app in iOS. This will create more hours for development which is great for them as more $$$. If you really want the iOS app, then that is cool, but see if you can get the app developed as a web app first and then get them to create it for iOS and Android, etc – it really does depend on your budget and time. This chart from Gartner from an article titled 2013 Roundup of Smartphone and Tablet Forecasts & Market Estimates in Forbes magazine show projected trends for mobile devices.
Some things to think about. When you decide you want to have a mobile app or mobile site developed, there are some things you need to consider to make sure your users have a positive experience. Here are some clues:
- Documents, especially PDF files do not present well on mobile devices if at all
- Text based content needs to be succinct and short
- Images need to be optimised for web
My last piece of advice is to talk to as many developers and designers as you can before choosing one – it is a highly contested space and there are many ‘experts’. At the end of the day, you want to have a product that improves your services and enhances the experience for your audience.