Last week, I was in my native state for the first time since my birth. Under the atrium of what I assume is Texas’ 4th largest bio-dome (sans Pauly Shore, unfortunately), I learnt a great deal about the state of the mobile web and where it’s headed.
Stephen Hay, who has contributed to A List Apart, shared his thoughts on Responsive Design in the Real World , focusing on the understanding that it goes beyond a simple grid & layout change (what we now should call adaptive layout)
Obviously, there were a lot more great speakers & topics, but these are the ones that stood out to me and will be the focus of my conference summary.
Third-World Distribution & Payment Systems
The concept of an app store just won’t work here because the customer doesn’t even have a bank account, let alone a credit card. So there will be innovations in payments and app distribution. In Kenya, for example, electronic funds are managed through SIM cards, and exchanges are made through text messages. Apps will likely be distributed via bluetooth from one customer to the next, and payments will utilize this SIM card approach or by adding fees to their phone bill.
Brian Fling’s Learned Lessons
Be skeptical, especially of analyst’s reports. Lots of ‘analysts’ basically talk bunk to boost a story, and what they are saying doesn’t necessarily reflect the desires of the key players (ISPs & hardware manufacturers)
There is no prevailing wisdom in the mobile web. We are at the beginning of a change in computing & user interaction. A lot of experimenting will take place.
Mobile users have incredibly sophisticated spacial orientation. They can easily track screens they have swiped in and out of view.
Native application development costs rise exponentially as you support more devices. This is true of mobile web, but the costs are 3⁄4 or even sometimes half.
For now, a great mobile strategy creates more questions than answers.
Brian also gave us new ideas to approach in our design, such as working with the hexadecimal grid(all mobile devices are on base-16) and the horizontal grid.
The Device API Spec
Brian LeRoux gave us his expletive-filled presentation on the necessity of supporting a mobile device API spec. For the not-so-techie, a mobile device API spec is basically a set of standards for any vendor to implement in their device if they want to make things easy for us to work with. Essentially, when the working group is agreed, and vendors feel secure about it, we should be able to create mobile web apps that work in the browser and access the same functions as a native app, such as cameras, calendars, maps, GPS, accelerometers, etc. Nitiobi and Phonegap are both working hard to contribute to this spec and get it into the real world this year.
a mobile device API spec is basically a set of standards for any vendor to implement in their device if they want to make things easy for us to work with
Responsive Design in the Real World
Finally, Stephen Hay gave us very good information on what it means to really implement a responsive design. The term ‘design’ can mean different things to many people, and it’s important to define what we mean when we use it. Design has a broader sense than “graphics, pictures and layout”. Design, in our world, usually means how it’s constructed, how it feels, how it interacts, and yes, how it looks on the surface.
So when our design responds to a mobile device, what does that mean? Well, it means more than adapting the layout.
What is your information architecture? Which pages & actions are necessary for mobile use? Attention must be short & focused.
How does it interact? Does it swipe? Can I zoom in or out of this? Should it geolocate at this point?
What is the circumstance? What is most likely going on around the user when accessing this information? Are they casually waiting for a train, or are they running in a rush to grab the last one on time?
Responsive mobile design means more than adapting the layout.
All in all, the conference was a huge success. I was impressed with the depth to which the speakers went on the core concepts of mobile design and development. I had many side conversations with these key speakers and they taught me a ton not only about coding techniques, but also the important ideas to focus on an accurate, bigger picture.
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