Another Voice Questioning The Need For Apps

Less than a year ago, the discussion within the web development community about the need for platform specific apps, meaning applications designed for Smartphones and tablets, started off as a trickle but has since turned into a torrent. The bulk of opinion favors allocating resources toward responsive web design and one of the latest voices in that conversation questions the notion of a separate “mobile web” to begin with.

question markOn 4/19/2012, Smashing Magazine published an article by open source authority Bruce Lawson that asserts designing web content separately for mobile and standard usage simply isn’t needed.

I disagree (mostly) with the idea that people need different content because they’re using different types of devices.

Lawsen continues by expanding on why he believes this is the case by using a number of concrete examples and sums up his outlook by saying that organizations need to change their default outlook when it comes to mobile-specific websites. Instead of thinking about platform specific design as a given, rely on solutions that embrace responsive design standards.

There will always be edge cases when separate, mobile-specific websites will be a better user experience, but this shouldn’t be your default when approaching the mobile Web. For a maintainable, future-friendly development methodology, I recommend that your default approach to mobile be to design one website that can adapt to different devices with viewport, Media Queries and other technologies that are often buzzworded “Responsive Design.”

Combining these techniques in a smart way with progressive enhancement allows your content to be viewed on any device (and with richer experiences available on more sophisticated devices), with the possibility of accessing device APIs such as geolocation, or the shiny new getUserMedia for camera access.

What really sticks out in Lawsen’s article is how he addresses a long standing problem of attempting to fix fundamental problems with content bloat and navigation congestion with mobile websites and apps.

I believe that special mobile websites is like sticking plaster over the problem; we generally shouldn’t have separate mobile websites, anymore than we should have separate screen reader websites. The reason many “full websites” are unusable on mobile phones is because many full websites are unusable on any device. It’s often said that your expenditure rises as your income does, and that the amount of clutter you own expands to fill your house however many times you move to a bigger one. In the same way, website owners have long proved incontinent in keeping desktop websites focused, simply because they have so much room. This is perfectly illustrated by the xkcd comic:


Why Should This Matter To Arts Groups?

The answer is simple:

  • …better online marketing performance.
  • …lower initial web development costs.
  • …lower web maintenance costs (in both time and treasure).

Do you need any other reasons?

But to reiterate one of Lawson’s points, it is likely that a few groups will encounter scenarios where a mobile specific website or app is going to be the unquestionable right choice; but that will be the exception, not the rule.

In the end, it is gratifying to see the field of web development move in the direction my programmers and I identified as the smart choice when we started developing The Venture Platform a few years back. Moreover, it’s exciting to see how things will continue to evolve.

In the meantime, when you sit down to discuss the state of your web presence or go surfing online for mobile web solutions, take a step back and spend your time exploring responsive design solutions and the developers and providers who embrace single-site methodology.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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