Web Design For the Mobile Device
We've been using desktop PCs to access the web for years now and so we kind of expect people to be able to view our sites in a fairly standard size and shape. For an awkward few years in the mid-2000s we were told that we should optimize for laptops and their ever bizarre screen resolutions but we managed to sidestep that issue by ignoring it. Luckily the laptops got better and the screens got bigger and these days we can get a screen on our laps that is almost as big as the ones we had on our desks.
A quick look at Google Analytics tells me that one of our most popular sites is accessed by people with resolutions of no less than 1024×900 which is quite a change from a few years ago, but a welcome one.
This all looks good news for the web developer but there's a new game in town and that is the mobile web. Again, most people avoided creating separate web pages for those using small screen mobile phones (and again, we just ignored them) but smartphones are now the norm and they have different demands. Yes, they can view full screen but have you tried it? The resolution may be good but they're almost impossible to read without zooming in or squinting.
So for those looking to write for the mobile web properly they have to design with this in mind and it does not end at smartphones.
The web is going everywhere and now we have the iPad making its debut soon and there have already been announcements of a slew of other systems looking to ride the wave of the new 'tablet PC' popularity.
Again, these larger format screens will be able to handle standard websites out the box, but Apple has already said they will never support Flash. So, at the very least, if you have a flash site then you're going to have to consider changing it or at least offering an alternative.
All this simply adds to the marketing budget of organizations while filling the pockets of web design agencies that are looking to 'help' you compete, but there is another way.
Although it's been around for years, CSS is still something many small companies see as alien technology. By using CSS, however, your website should be viewable by anyone, regardless of the type of browser or size of screen. If designed correctly, your website should be perfectly good for everyone.
But is this the end of the issue? Can we rest know our pages can be viewed or is there more to it than that?
Well yes, there is more to it because new devices now have new interfaces and we're being asked to ditch the mouse and keyboard and feel our way around the screen by simply touching it. Once only found in science fiction movies, the tactile touch screen is now a common sight and some of the latest technology relies on it for even the most mundane usage.
So, there is a new age upon us and it means more work for companies, more for web design agencies and even more for the Internet marketers around us. You see it's not just how we interface with these new devices but how and why we use them too. When we pick up a smartphone or iPad variant to surf, we're probably not typically flipping from one site to another, but instead looking for something very specific – probably something based on our location or particular situation.
If we're using our mobile web browser then it could be that we need something specific and therefore need it quickly – searching and sifting through data is not what these things were designed for and so we have a new type of software on the rise – the 'app'.
Apps (let's face it, just the shortened version of 'application') is a small piece of software designed for the smaller screen and usually with quite a specific purpose. For example, there are apps that will find you the nearest supermarket or cash point. Essential stuff.
This is quite a change in tack for both users and developers because for years we've been moving people away from applications that run on your device and more towards 'cloud' computing where the application sits on a server and you use it when you need it. It shows we're going back in time.
So, the warning here for web developers is to be wary when designing your sites and now more than ever, consider who is going to be using it. If you're going to be providing information that could be used 'on the road' then consider quick access and low graphical weight and above all, make it easy to use; when you're navigating with your thumb, a fiddly menu is the last thing you need to be playing with.