A quiet shift is happening in the world of web design and development – one that has been in the works for a few years, but is now starting to come to fruition: the mobile world is mobilizing to point a whole lot of eyes onto our websites. Our canvas may be shrinking, but the opportunities will continue to grow. Here’s what’s happening in the mobile world that will affect you as a web professional, and what you can do to prepare for the change.
A handful of things have changed in the handheld landscape in the last few years. For one, Apple introduced the iPhone that rolled out with Safari installed on the phone. To the average consumer, having a web browser on their mobile phone gave it a nice “oooo ahhh” touch (pun intended). Suddenly you could browse around websites and it would actually look similar to what you would see on your computer. For web designers and developers, this is a much more monumental change than we, as a community, have given it credit for.
With a full-fledged web browser now installed on something like an iPhone, the barrier of entry has just been significantly lowered to offer web-based services for small-screen, portable devices. While the iPhone still has relatively small market penetration, it’s the first push towards truly leveraging the community of web developers and entrepreneurs into the handheld world.
And Then Came the GPhone (Android and Chrome)
The next big step is coming from Google – and it’s actually two or three smaller steps. The first step started with the work happening around Android – Google’s open source operating system for handheld devices. Starting with their acquisition of the Android team back in 2005, Google has clearly been planning a move into the wireless/handheld device world for at least a few years. Rumours surrounded this move, with many suggesting that Google would be unveiling a “GPhone”. It may have taken a few years, but sure enough, Google will be unveiling a phone, running off of Android, in the coming weeks.
The other big step is one that has garnered a lot of attention – the release of Chrome, Google’s web browser. While the attention around Chrome was largely surrounding the new features that would make Chrome stick out from today’s standard of web browsers like FireFox, IE, Safari, and Opera, little attention has been given to the potential impact and perhaps the real value of all this for Google.
By first rolling out an open source OS for mobile devices, and then also rolling out an open source browser, and now packaging it all into their own phones, Google will be making a strong push to establish itself in the world of mobile devices.
iPhone, Android, Chrome – What Does This Mean For Web Professionals?
Here are some thoughts and suggestions:
Learn How to Design for Small Screen Interfaces
A good place to start would be to do some Googling on “designing for handheld devices” or “designing for small screen interfaces”. There has been a lot of talk in this space for a number of years now, and even though earlier discussions would tend to revolve around the challenge of designing for 100 different versions of handheld web browsers, the underlying principles of design will hold true now as much as they did then.
For example, you might want to check out this buncholinks on designing for small screen interfaces:
Make Sure Your Current Websites Render Properly in Chrome and Safari (as well as FireFox, Opera and…well, ok…IE too)
Even though both Safari and Chrome are developed using WebKit – an open source web browser engine – sites are reportedly being rendered differently in each. As web designers, we aren’t in the clear yet – you’ll still need to do cross-browser testing. But at least now when you do it for Chrome or Safari, you’ll know what your website will look like in a handheld device as well.
Look for New Business Opportunities in Mobile Devices
Think about what opportunities are out there to merge the types of things you’re building on the web, with the types of things you already personally do on your own mobile device. Think about the things you could start doing now with near ubiquitous access to the web. For example, have you heard of Tagga?
Rethink How Your Website Is Going to be Used
As the Google phone and the iPhone gain more market share, there will inevitably be more people browsing the web through small screens. Take a look at your website right now (through an actual iPhone if you can), and do a quick assessment of how your website is going to perform for your visitors. If you’re about to embark on a new site redesign, you may even want to consider factoring in design for small screen interfaces as one of the requirements (even if it’s a secondary or “nice to have” requirement).
Keep A Close Eye on Your Web Stats
We’ve already started to see the first hints of web visitors peering at our websites through the eyes of tiny interfaces. In the stats, these show up as screen resolutions somewhere in the neighbourhood of 320×240. Keep an eye on the relative percentage of visitors you have that are checking out your site through these small eyes. Most right now are probably just curious what your website looks like on their shiny new phone, but soon enough these people will be legitimately trying to use your website through that small screen, they’ll also soon be expecting to see the same standards on that small screen as what they see on their 15.4″ monitor, and eventually the bigger players in the web will be catering to this – so you don’t want to get left behind!
The Bottom Line
The world wide web is about to get an awful lot wider – and it’ll be in large part thanks to the true arrival of the web onto smaller and smaller interfaces. With web2.0 apps that bring software-like functionality in byte-size packages, all processed through the power of cloud computing, it won’t be long before the power we now see on traditional computers gets leveraged through mobile devices. The change is coming – the question is what are you going to do about it?…And are you ready?