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Sunday, 26 May 2013 22:00

GOING MOBILE: As smartphone use grows, web developers focus on flexible strategies built for all platforms

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The concept of responsive web design recognizes that most websites will be viewed by different types of devices and tries to preserve the similarity of the user experience regardless of how the website is accessed. The concept of responsive web design recognizes that most websites will be viewed by different types of devices and tries to preserve the similarity of the user experience regardless of how the website is accessed.

Smartphones are everywhere these days and only becoming more popular.

LKF Marketing Inc. saw the explosion of mobile communication devices coming two years ago and began updating its proprietary content management system to develop websites that would display properly on smartphones and tablet computers.

“We put a year into developing a responsive mechanism so when we developed sites for our clients, no matter what platform they are working on, our system will detect the device and serve up that environment,” said Heather Isch, vice president at the Kalamazoo-based LKF Marketing.

[LIST: Top Web/Mobile Developers]

The firm’s updated content management system was recently used to build, the official website for the Michigan Grape & Wine Industry Council, and to create its own corporate website.

“At LKF, it was so important to us to deliver the same mobile experience that our customers receive on their desktop that we created a custom responsive content management system,” said Isch about the 15-person marketing and communications agency. “All of our websites use this development platform so our new sites deliver a consistent experience no matter what device people use. We tell our clients that their website strategy should incorporate a mobile strategy these days.”

There’s myriad data to support LKF’s advice.

A study by Boston-based Strategy Analytics reported more the number of people with a smartphone surpassed the 1 billion mark globally in the third quarter of 2012. That’s one-seventh of the global population that uses a smartphones. The International Telecommunication Union reported there were 6.8 billion mobile phone subscriptions worldwide.

Last year, total PC sales around the world for the first time were outpaced by total smartphone sales, at least in units sold, according to global market analyst Canalsys. The industry shipped nearly 488 million smartphones compared to 415 million PCs.

Platform Agnostic

With the growth in mobile computing, web developers are increasingly turning to responsive web design, which focuses on creating a user-friendly experience regardless of the type of device being used.

“Responsive design is the idea that nobody designs websites for just web browsers,” said Aaron Schaap, founder of Holland-based web developer Elevator Up LLC. “They design for multiple devices. It’s not designing a mobile friendly or tablet friendly website, but for all devices. Responsive design is definitely a hot trend these days.”

Pete Brand, co-founder of Mindscape at Hanon McKendry, a 35-person full-service digital agency in downtown Grand Rapids, agreed.

“Mobile is extremely important in Internet design,” he said. “It’s important to pay attention to your analytics data and the feedback you receive from your visitors to tailor a development solution that is compelling, easy-to-use for the intended target, and that effectively addresses their business challenge.”

For retailers like Starbucks, using responsive design on mobile devices provides the mobile user with location guidance. So if a user connects to the Starbucks website, and the site recognizes the user is on a smartphone with GPS guidance, the website tells the user where the nearest Starbucks is located, Brand said.

“It’s forcing smart marketers to figure out the relevancy factor,” he said. “Web developers not only have to worry about the user hitting the back button if the site is not providing them with the info they want, but what sort of device they are using to access the information.”

Using such traffic data is key to delivering a client the best Internet customer experience, said Darren Brown, president of Arivium Inc., a six-person software and web design company in Grand Rapids.

“Knowing who, where, when, with what types of devices and browsers your content is being viewed on is extremely helpful in understanding the profile of your customer,” Brown said. “We are doing some promotional tools work with a customer and are able to track who the customers are, in what they are interested, where they register, what they purchase, and how they connected to us. The analytics help us target better and provide a cleaner message via the right channels.”

While mobile devices are indeed driving web design, deciding which applications you want users to view on these small screens is also a major consideration.

“However, scaling what you offer on phone browsers can be accommodated to simple information review — to see if a customer I am about to visit paid their invoices, for example,” Brown said. “But if you are trying to create a product concept, or review a contract through your phone, you will have a difficult time making that work well. Thinking about what people need to do on different types of devices (while using) your applications is critical. Neglecting these ideas will make your product, no matter how provocative it is, potentially obsolete by someone who has thought of it and accommodated it into their solution.”

All eyes on video

While web developers have increasingly focused on visual communications as an effective marketing tool, Brown said they must ensure users can engage with the content amid a plethora of other stimuli.

“We need to think about how to get users’ sense of touch, audio, and visual working at the same time,” Brown said. “Of course, the challenge is to get your message across without being too busy, or taking so much bandwidth that people abandon your site before you get them to your finale.”

Web video is another big trend for 2013. Last year, YouTube reported that it streamed an average of more than 4 billion hours of online videos each month, and users upload 72 hours of video to the website every minute. The website has more than 1 billion unique visits per month.

“If you are marketing a new product or an innovative way to use an existing product the use of video is extremely effective,” Brown said. “We are using simple video to demonstrate concepts which may take a full hour to demonstrate, but can be delivered in one-minute clips. To me, what was most important in developing the clips was thinking through how to get the message across with movement and narration in short segments.”

Cloud concerns

Another tech trend that’s gained momentum over the last several years is cloud computing. Many businesses run on Google’s largely cloud-based applications for email and calendars. At the same time, cloud file-sharing service Dropbox is reported to have more than 100 million users.

But the rush to the cloud concerns Jerry Broersma, co-owner of PEC Technologies LLC in Grand Rapids.

“That’s an intriguing situation,” Broersma said. “Everyone is rushing to the cloud, and we’ll find some applications not fitting to be on the cloud. It could become like outsourcing to China and India — it’s not the panacea that everyone thought it was.”

Cyber security is the hot web trend not talked about on these Internet web trends lists, Broersma said.

“In health care, there is a struggle between mobile devices and HIPPA privacy requirements,” he said, noting his wife works in the industry. “Everyone wants to work out of the cloud these days because it is more cost-effective and convenient. But the cloud also makes data more available to hackers and such. My fear is as mobile devices proliferate, it will make it easier for hackers to steal your private data.”

Google Glass, now in the hands of developers, could have a big impact on web development as well, Brown said. The product has been billed as the world’s first wearable computer disguised as a pair of glasses. According to an April press release from Google, the display is “the equivalent of a 25-inch high definition screen from eight feet away.” The device can pair with a cell phone using either Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, but users must sign in with their Google+ accounts to unlock all Google Glass features.

What worries Broersma is Google Glass could someday allow users to look at strangers and through facial recognition software, download everything about that person that is available online.

“Will there be a blowback from that?” Broersma said. “Is this a brave new world we are allowing to happen? Someday, we’ll wake up and discover we no longer own ourselves. “

But no matter which of the web development trends turn out to be the hottest this year, whether developers are creating sites for mobile, tablet or desktop — or for business-to-business or business-to-consumer use — the core principles that have guided design for a decade remain the same, said Mindscape’s Brand.

“If today’s hottest trend really isn’t going to help your client, don’t recommend it,” Brand said. “Regardless of the trends, it’s important for developers to provide sound advice that will help their clients reach and influence decision makers.”

Editor’s note: This story was changed from the original version. LKF Marketing did not use its updated CMS to create the Air Zoo website, but rather used the system on its own corporate website. This updated story reflects the correction. 

Read 8182 times Last modified on Friday, 19 July 2013 12:22

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