Migrating from Desktop to Mobile: 6 steps for success

If you have only one web site that is built for desktop browsers then you definately need to read this post. The one-size website-fits-all days are gone along with the AMC Gremlin. Mobile is a much different world than desktop and your visitors, users and customers will know that. This post is based on a presentation that I did at GIS in the Rockies 2012, and another blog post I wrote called 3 Steps for Determining if Your Website is Mobile Ready.

The presentation mentions GIS, or Geographic Information Systems, however it applies to anyone considering mobile.

Why care about mobile? For once the internet analyst firms are clear on one thing: mobile device sales have  surpassed desktop sales world-wide, yep I mean not just in the good ol’ U.S.A, around January’ish 2012. There are more than 835 million mobile users now, and studies show that people are spending the majority of their free time using their devices. And the patterns they use to interact with the devices are becoming ingrained and, for better or for worse, expected. And that expectation has reached a fervored pitch as the iPhone fanboys (and fangirls) demonstrated when the iPhone 5 launched. Everyone wants the latest and greatest even if it’s not all that different.

What about mobile user expectations? Mobile users have significantly different expectations on performance, look-and-feel, and capabilities. There are also differences between devices, for example as you may already know an Android user interface is fairly different from iPhone. Catering to those needs will boost your chances of success. So, here’s just a sampling:

  • Many different screen sizes. Typically smaller screen sizes and a wide vareity of screen pixel densities.
  • The mouse is gone. Navigation is done using fingers for gestures such as pinch and swipe. Greasy, french fry picking fingers are much less precise than any computer mouse.
  • Less memory. Phones have less memory and they can be slower than your high-powered laptop.
  • Poor internet connection. There are no gaurantees on a mobile internet connection, unless you happen to be dragging a CAT6 ethernet cable with you everwhere you go. Connections can be spotty and 4G connections can be inconsistent.
  • Battery life is awful. If you are at a conference, for example, using the phone heavily may kill the battery in  4 – 5 hours. Tablets are typically a bit better. In comparison, desktop computers are always plugged in.
  • Not all mobile devices are the same. iPhone and iPad run a different operating system from Android. Not only are the platforms completely different underneath, but users have different expectations of each platform. You can’t share the same code between iOS and Android, or even Windows Phone.

How about those six steps you mentioned? It’s these differences that really drive the six migration steps. And, these suggestions apply to all the different approaches to mobile whether you are building for mobile web, hybrid, native or responsive*:

  1. Start prototyping today. Let your developers loose to start playing and to get an idea the capabilities of different devices and operating systems. Have them use your existing web site content.
  2. Analyze your existing website usage. Use analytics tools such as Google Analytics to analyze what browser and operating systems your visitors are using. Look to see if there are any trends related to mobile usage. If you don’t use online analytics, there are also tools that can examine your existing web site logs.
  3. Reevalute all use cases and workflows. Mobile is so different from desktop. Refresh your approach on how to work your magic in that enviroment by taking into account how people use their smartphone everyday.
  4. Expect that you will need to rewrite code. Don’t try to make the code fit if it doesn’t meet the requirements. Besides, sometimes it’s a good thing to rebuild so that you clean house and bring a fresh perspective.
  5. Buy as many devices as possible. Since all devices are different, the more you can test on the better. For example, have as many types of Android and iOS devices running different OS versions on several different cell providers.
  6. Dig deep into browser differences. All browsers are different, especially mobile browsers. Check out caniuse.com as your next new best friend.

* A short note on Responsive websites. These use CSS3 media queries to detect and control what HTML content is visible to certain devices. CSS3 is generally considered to be one of the three technologies that together make up HTML5. Those three components are HTML (version 5) + Cascading Style Sheets (version 3) +  some new JavaScript APIs. NOTE: all three of these technologies are built into the browser by the browser vendors such as Google, Mozilla, Microsoft and Apple.