Is that a Rich Web in Your Pocket?

clip_image002I had a fantastic opportunity recently as I was asked to speak at the Google Tech User Group on HTML5. Eoin Bailey, co-founder of Hit the Road and one of the founders of the Dublin GTUG, invited me to speak on HTML5 with some of their other speakers to give a full out HTML5 day at the Dublin GTUG. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to speak at Google so I rearranged my schedule to make sure that I could make it. :)

 

The schedule was as follows.

1. Ilmari Heikkinen, "Sprucing up your pictures with HTML5" – Ilmari will cover some HTML5 basics – the enhancements that it provides over previous web standards and will focus on how image and video filters can be used, demonstrating some examples.

2. Neil Turner, "Lessons learned with HTML5" – Neil has built some web applications based on HTML5 and will talk about his experience doing this, including browser support issues, compatibility, responsive web design and performance.

3. Josh Holmes, “Is that a Rich Web in Your Pocket?” – A fast moving trend is building for mobile with HTML5. In this talk, Josh Holmes will show what can be accomplished with a mobile browser app and talk about the design considerations for that form factor.

I borrowed some of the slides from Joe Marini’s MIX talk on Mobile and put my very demo heavy spin on it. My slides are at http://www.slideshare.net/joshholmes/is-that-a-rich-web-in-your-pocket.

Slide1I’ve been passionate about mobile and mobile web for quite some time. I’ve been doing on device mobile development for the better part of 10 years now starting back with CE 4 in January 2002. It’s amazing to me, however, how far the mobile industry has come in that time period. It’s been a fast and furious but fun ride in that time…

Slide2Do you remember the pain of trying to develop on for the text based browser? Remember  when WAP (Wireless Applications Protocol) development was all the rage? It seems soooo long ago at this point and so old school. In actuality, the WAP forum who were the main drivers of WAP was actually consolidated in 2002. And I remember when it was such a huge deal that the ASP.NET Mobile Toolkit could produce WAP compliant mark-up which meant that I didn’t have to…

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But the mobile web development space has exploded. Smartphones these days, including the Windows Phone, are capable of running some amazing things. To demonstrate I showed HamsterDance Revolution which uses javascript, CSS3, the audio tag and more with some serious performance on a Mango device. Next I showed the FishIE Tank and the Speed Reading in rapid succession and then moved over to the Mango emulator for my demos.

Slide4Phones these days have the potential to be much more than just a small computer in our pocket. Phones these days know what time it is (clock), where it is (geo-location), what the lighting is like (light sensor), if it’s moving (accelerometer), where it’s going (compass) and can even see (camera) and hear (mic). It’s amazing what they are capable of these days. With all of that knowledge of their surroundings, mobile apps and sites should be augmented by reality. They should geo-locate you to give you directions to the closest train stop (for instance) rather than you having to pick from a list. If the lighting is bad, they should go with a high contrast colour scheme. If it’s loud around you, they should not ask for voice input. If you’re moving, minimize text input. And so on. At the moment, the browser doesn’t have access to all of these sensors but I can’t imagine that that’s that far away.

Slide5In addition, the way that people use devices in a mobile context is vastly different than a desktop development. It’s more than just the screen size that matters here. People who are using mobile are on the go and need immediate information. As part of that, I showed the United Airlines mobile site, Facebook, Twitter and the like.

Slide6When people are sitting at their desk, they are in a controlled, stable and (a lot of the time) comfortable environment. They are able to do sustained browsing and research.

When people are on the go, they need quick, "glance-able” information that will give them the information that they need at the moment. For example, that could be directions to the venue that they are headed to or a phone number or any number of discrete bits of information that they need while on the go.

Slide7Then I moved on to talking about designing for the finger verses the stylus/mouse/keyboard. First of all, the finger is not as accurate as a stylus or mouse. If I turn my finger on it’s side and am very careful, my finger is still at least 40 pixels across and most of the time it’s closer to 80 pixels. And then there’s all of the sites that are so dependent on the mouse and/or keyboard.

As an example, I pulled up http://thekillersmusic.com/html5 in IE9 and showed how fantastic of a site it is and then showed the same site rendering on Mango but talked about the fact that it’s too reliant on the mouseovers and the like to be useful in a mobile context. Same thing with Pacman in IE9 verses on a mobile device. While it renders and plays, it requires a keyboard for navigation.

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Mobile sites need to be clean and crisp without a lot mixed fonts, colours and the like. Don’t overuse graphics, gradients and  heavy background images as they can all effect download speed and/or view-ability in direct sunlight. Make sure that you’ve thought about the readability and the usage of whitespace. Obviously you don’t want to go nuts with the white space because you’ve got so little real estate to start with but a little bit of white space can make all the difference.

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Work as hard for your user as you can. In other words, minimize the user’s input by providing intelligent defaults and picking up as much from the sensors as you can to make as many decisions as possible. Make sure that you store user’s previous inputs and where possible, use them to help streamline future engagement.s

Slide10Lastly, think carefully about your mobile strategy. It can range from doing nothing to going hog wild with a mobile specific design.

One of the key things here is that you make a deliberate choice with regards to your mobile strategy because almost guaranteed you’ll have users browsing your site from their mobile devices.

  • Do nothing
    • No special content adaptation, result is the desktop site being delivered to the device. Sometimes, this is the right choice. It’s definitely the default choice and the easy one to go with.
  • Basic Mobile Adaptation
    • Content laid out so it will at least be consumable on a device, special META tags indicate that page is ready for mobile. This one is slightly more difficult to pull off as you have to make sure that your content works on both desktop and mobile.
  • Multi-Serving Content
    • Same page is sent to mobile and desktop, styled differently for each. This is not as hard as you’d think. You can accomplish this through the use of the @media tags to reformat the layout dependent on screen width and the like.
  • Mobile Specific Design
    • Parts of site are designed for mobile specifically, kept in separate domain or subfolder, redirected to when necessary. This is a high end strategy that requires a lot more work as you’re effectively building two different sites. On the other hand, it makes the mobile experience fantastic but doesn’t require you to compromise on the desktop experience.

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The quick couple of take aways are that mobile web has evolved tremendously over the past handful of years. As a result you should really think about your mobile strategy and consider your mobile user’s context as part of that strategy.

Oh – and in my last moments I threw up http://ie6countdown.com to hopefully push out the last bits of IE6 around. :)

This was a fun talk to give and I hope to expand on this talk and do a much richer version in the near future.