Monday, February 01, 2010

Web Developers can rule the Mobile Development

A lot of application providers who have their well defined means to market their applications are nowadays disappointed with the fact that they have to share their revenues with the device manufacturers and are looking for options which can help them avoid the same. On top of that there is almost a new device coming to market every other day thereby putting enormous pressure on their profitability.

Can a Mobile Browser application be a worthy option !!!

Here I have tried to look at the challenges faced while mobilizing an Internet Website and the key considerations for designing a Mobile Website.

The early development environments felt too sandboxed and needed resident applications to access the core features of the mobile phone. Today, things are changing. A lot of features however are now beginning to be found within the web browsers (vibration, accelerometer, geolocation).

With support from tools like jQTouch, it's shockingly easy to create apps that feel like they belong on the mobile phone using HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. With PhoneGap, you can reach out to features like vibration, accelerometer, and geolocation. What's more, Mobile Browser lets you target your application to multiple platforms, so you're not even locked into the manufacturer’s tightly-controlled universe of Application Stores and need not shelve the hard earned dollars.

The world, of course, includes Google, which last week in a somewhat more modest development bypassed Apple’s iPhone app blockade by unveiling an html5 version of Google Voice, which takes full advantage of mobile Safari on the iPhone. found it to be an impressive variation of the app Apple has neither approved nor officially rejected.

Add to that Endeavour now also offers a "Hybrid Approach" which brings together the benefits of both the native application and the Mobile Browser (am purposely not disclosing too much here but can be shared on request).

Having said that, developing a browser application has its own challenges.

Every year hundreds of devices flood the market with different browsers, display capabilities, screen sizes, and keypads — making designing a consistently good experience both an expensive and time-consuming process. The companies should not go by the initial hype created about Mobile Web being Device and platform agnostic which is not entirely true. The firms need to adequately balance the quality of the customer experience with both the size of the target audience and the costs associated with Mobile Web approach vis a vis a native application.

To approach the mobile Web in a systematic fashion, Endeavour therefore recommends that companies should take the following approach:

Deal with widely different interfaces. There are hundreds of mobile devices on the market, and they differ in screen size, resolution, orientation, keypad, and menu buttons. Different device manufacturers adopt proprietary technologies and operating systems, fracturing the device landscape even further. Updates to existing devices can even introduce minor behavior differences between two versions of the same phone. It is therefore important to identify the manufacturers (and devices, if possible) which needs to be supported.

Support a plethora of browsers. Unlike desktop Web developers who can limit their testing to three major browsers viz Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Safari the Mobile Web developers must contend with more than 40 mobile browsers — including Microsoft, Motorola, Nokia, Openwave, Opera, and RIM. Mobile service providers aggravate the problem by customizing mobile browsers on their devices. Since most devices do not allow over-the-air updates of software, faulty browser devices are simply replaced with newer versions on the next release of the phone. This often leaves multiple versions of the same phone with different capabilities. Most mobile service providers also recommend that application and site developers support devices for two years. It is important to design and develop the Mobile Web keeping in mind not only today’s phones, but should also take into account the past and evolving technologies.

Once the decision is taken on going the Mobile Web route a six step approach is recommended in order to have a website that is supported on maximum number of browsers and handsets:

Even well-designed sites can render drastically differently across a few common devices. Since the differences in browsers and devices are outside of a company’s control, site designers must factor in development, testing time, and cost when deciding on a mobile strategy. Most mobile design firms have expertise in developing for many devices; however, companies should always inquire about a firm’s design and testing plan across their devices of interest.

Endeavour recommends one of FOUR basic approaches for companies considering a mobile Web site.

A detailed technical note on designing of Mobile Web Application is available on request.

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