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Is 2012 your year for mobilisation?

2nd February 2012

In 2011, 70% of eBay users accessed the site from a mobile/tablet device. The days of needing a traditional PC to surf the Internet are almost gone. Now, even my mum accesses Facebook directly via the app on her smart phone. And if my mum is using her mobile to replace her regular web browsing habits then those still resisting mobile are behind the times.

While mobile was once the domain of internet giants, many SMEs are starting to fall in line as well. Is 2012 your year for mobilisation?

So where do I start? There’s no standard answer to this. It depends on the existing and target user base and your current and future content requirements. Personally, I would start with a mobile-specific version of your site and move up from there. While interaction will be largely restricted to that of your current website, this will allow those browsing the web on mobile devices to read your website in a mobile optimised format – a minimum requirement.

I want an app! If you have an interaction-heavy online business then it might be worth considering an app. These come in both native and hybrid flavours: native means the app is built specifically for the phone’s operating system (eg. iOS), whereas hybrid combines elements of native code with HTML5.

Why native? If you’re looking to offer users a truly engaging experience then a native approach will best address that need. Native apps are the ideal solution when dealing with lots of offline data, synchronising, and accessing native handset functionalities such as address book, camera etc. From the user’s perspective, native apps are fast, reliable, and powerful. From a business perspective, native apps can be expensive. The barrier to this approach is definitely upfront development cost and the fact that these will have to be repeated for each major platform targeted – iPhone, Android, Blackberry and WP7. If the thought of an expensive, inflexible development project doesn’t sound like the right investment then don’t worry. Fortunately, there are some cool options available that can make your geek and your wallet a lot happier.

A hybrid approach? If you are looking at a solution that will display content with extensive user engagement plus a lot of HTML based information and interaction then we are looking at a Hybrid solution. Hybrid apps are quite powerful, look like a native app and can function most of the native functionality that are available through a native platform. Did I mention that the development time is also faster with this approach. The trade-off here is, it is expensive than a regular HTML5 based app. But the good news is it still is cheaper than a native app.

I just want one simple solution! Okay, so you want one website that will display and function effectively on a broad range of PCs, laptops and mobile/tablet devices? In this case you are looking at adaptive design/fluid layout. This is when your website detects the device and display settings your user is using and then picks the best out of a number of pre-configured designs to display content optimised for that context.

The cost is a bit higher than a regular website build or a single app build, but it’s cheaper than doing both separately and can perform many of the same jobs . Visit the Boston Globe website on both your computer and mobile phones to see an example of this cool adaptive solution. Yep – that’s the same site. Better yet, if you decide later that you actually want a hybrid app as well then you can reuse a lot of the same code.

So… which is right for me? You should apply the same research and analysis to determining your mobile solution as you did your CMS. Each approach has a trade-off, but plotting out the business and user requirements of your mobile content before talking to your geeks will help ensure that you’re making the best decisions, maximising value and minimise waste. Long story short, “Think before do.”

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