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Developing Rich Mobile Websites

NetbiscuitsLayoutDegredation In one of the first DevCon sessions of the day, Christian Reitz from Netbiscuits (a platform for creating mobile portals) and Han-Shen Yuan from m.ebay.com talked about the opportunity that mobile devices provide to developers

  • The number of smartphone users is overtaking the number of PC users.
  • The top 20 mobile devices hitting m.ebay.com account for about 53% of usage, and 1500 other devices account for the other 47%. (So, if you only focus on supporting one or two popular devices, you're missing more than half of the mobile opportunity.)

Should I Build a Native App or a Mobile Web Site?
Christian compared the benefits and challenges of building native apps vs. mobile sites. Here are a few examples:

  • Both are competitive when it comes to supporting very rich UIs, high performance (though native is best suited for games), tracking, and a number of other features.
  • Mobile sites can use standard web technologies; with native  apps, you usually need to work with proprietary SDKs.
  • Native apps can potentially access other native apps, such as the device's calendar (if that's important to you).

He recommended that you start by creating a mobile site, and then create a hybrid app with optional features.

The hybrid displays your mobile site's content in a browser, and then adds optional support for native features (like geolocation or enhancements to the device's menus). The cool thing about this approach is that it is relatively easy to set up and replicate across different devices.

Device Compatibility
If you're designing your mobile portal for smartphones, make sure it also degrades well for lower-end devices (as shown in the picture above). They mentioned some capabilities to consider:

  • Device detection (vendors, models, firmware, browsers, carriers, and countries)
  • Content adaptation (adapting layouts and transcoding images, sound, and/or video)
  • Device profiling (supporting not only the top 20 devices but also the long tail)

Mobile Technology Service Providers
If you want to focus your development efforts on your own business functionality, mobile platforms can do most or all of the technology work above for you:

  • If you're not a developer, look for services that provide tools to create a mobile portal with no coding.
  • If you're a developer, look for a platform that offers custom APIs that support any platform and programming language.

(Thanks to Netbiscuits for the automatic layout degredation image above.)

June 9, 2010 in Best Practices, Developers Conference | Permalink