Ed Moore’s Top Ten Don’ts of Going Mobile

Ed Moore at the ICMA

This list originated from a request to Ed Moore while on the Mobile Panel at the ICMA conference in Cologne. After a discussion on the mistakes people made on new mobile projects we agreed to write up our key points. See if you agree.

  1. Don’t start thinking about supporting phones after finishing your desktop web site
    If you design the mobile experience first then the content will be more concise, loading times will be reduced due to leaner code and the desktop web site will be easier to build. The constraints of mobile and small screen help create focus on what’s important to the user which can then be utilised on the desktop. Don’t forget you must prepare your server for both web and app access so make sure an API is available to expose the data.
  2. Don’t use one mobile design across different OS platforms
    A mistake made by many is to design an iPhone app then simply copy the design to Android. Each platform including Android, Windows and Blackberry 10 have their own style guides, interaction guiidelines and ways of managing app navigation. For example, users on Android phones expect to see an Android design, not an iPhone one (and they will be very vocal expressing that).
  3. Don’t forget about the network
    Mobile phones use cellular data, this is slower than broadband and you can lose connection to a server frequently. Your web site or app must recover well and still be quick in these conditions. Keep the UI responsive and let the user know what’s happening. Make sure server responses are properly cached and compressed.
  4. Don’t use a different server name for a separate mobile specific web site
    With device types now spanning laptops, ultra notebooks, tablets, mini tablets, phablets and phones you cannot easily split your customer traffic into two separate desktop and mobile sites. Two sites also cause problems when using social media and sharing; if someone links to your site when using a phone, when it is read by someone from a PC it will send them to the wrong site. Concentrate on building a single, responsive web experience, that changes styling to suit the device and only loads enough content for the screen size.
  5. Don’t spend money if you don’t have to
    Decide if you are building an app or mobile web site to provide universal access to your service. It may be ok to build a basic app rather than a very sophisticated one, certainly to start with. Also target your most popular phone platform first, if many of your mobile users are on Android then make the Android app first and see how it is used before deciding to support other platforms. When tempted by cross platform tools, remember there’s no silver bullet, you’ll still need to spend a lot of time tweaking and fixing issues on each platform.
  6. Don’t use unsuitable web techniques
    Consider mobile phone users for all aspects of your web or app design. Don’t use Flash which isn’t supported on phones, use HTTP video streaming. Don’t use XML, JSON data is quicker to process and its smaller file size will be faster to transfer over mobile networks. Don’t try and force mobile web users to use your app with a pop-up, they may not be ready to engage with you that way. Don’t detect web browsers then only support the major desktop ones.
  7. Don’t always build a responsive web site from scratch
    Check open source code libraries before making any development decisions. There are many frameworks available that help the development of responsive web sites. We’ve used the Twitter Bootstrap framework for their robust grid layouts & pre-built plugins such as autocomplete. If you’re using Bootstrap you must adapt it’s design to suit your own needs; lots of websites use the default styles and they start looking too similar.
  8. Don’t forget you can turn phones and tablets around
    People use tablets and phones in landscape and in portrait. Plan to support and test both ways or you could lock your app to just one orientation to save costs.
  9. Don’t think Android is a single platform
    Android is no longer one system, it has changed (sometimes radically) between version releases and it differs between handset manufacturers. Data handling, screen size / layout and browser support (for HTML compatibility) differ widely between releases. Manufacturers leave out or change code libraries, then add a UI presentation layer of their own to the phone. You will need to check your app across more than one handset to ensure wide usability. Be sure to test on HTC, we find their changes are the most disruptive.
  10. Don’t leave anybody behind
    Get everybody on board with your mobile strategy. Project managers, content authors, designers, developers and marketing. If you have a web development team don’t ignore them when considering mobile projects. Keep them involved; either updating your existing servers, working on mobile user interfaces or allowing them time to try mobile app development. If they know Javascript let them start exploring apps using HTML5 with PhoneGap or a tool such as Titanium. These tools have their own issues but are a possible way to get them started. They will also be reading that mobile is the future, if they are excluded from mobile projects they may think they are not part of your company’s future.

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