“It’s all the same to be, when I’m driving free, the worlds my home when I’m mobile”
40 years after Pete Townsend sang those immortal words on arguably The Who’s best album, we’re finally untethered from our desktops and we are truly @home on the Internet. To us, the Golden Age of Mobile Computing began with the first release of the iPhone 3 in June of 2007 and this year is proving to be shattering mobile expectations.
At Fusebox we’ve been aggressively building out our mobile practice. Like many in our industry, we recognize momentum in the overalll device market now favors smartphones and tablets. Ubiquitous computing is led by devices running Google’s Android operating system and Apple’s iPhone (iOS). In fact, projected smartphone usage in the US will reach 73.3 million by the end of 2011. This represents 31% of the total mobile user population. By 2013, this number is expected to more than double.
Currently, a minority of mobile users, specifically smartphone users, command the majority of attention from developers and marketers simply because of how they use their devices. Unlike feature phone users, these users actively engage with the mobile web, yet the user interfaces needed to properly address their needs often consist of:
- an amalgam of custom solutions that lack standardization across the enterprise,
- must constantly be tested,
- and are costly to develop and support.
In the mobile space, there are often multiple codebases in order to deal with this lack of standardization.
The US mobile browser market at this moment appears to be a three-way race between Safari, Blackberry, and Android, with the latter behind but showing the fastest growth. The important news to recognize is that with Blackberry’s move to the WebKit browser in its 6th generation O/S, is that the WebKit browser represents over 65% of the mobile smartphone browser market. In turn, Windows devices and others are playing catch up and could shift the market if they can come up with some radical innovation.
- Safari 26%
- BlackBerry 20%
- Android 30%
- Other (including Windows, webOS and others) 24%
It’s important then to implement a mobile web initiative in a consistent web framework. This is different, yet complementary to a mobile application development framework which we’ll discuss in another post (ie an iPhone or Android app). The most promising framework we’ve implemented is JQuery Mobile.
In order to form a unified mobile experience, that can easily deploy features and functionality, we @fusebox now leverage a touch user interface framework that seeks to monitor and deploy solutions that track against the product road maps of the popular browsers and operating systems as well as cover the remaining 35% in a both a cost-effective and useful way.
The JQuery Mobile solution we integrate seeks the goal of “One Codebase, all Mobile Platforms”. For those of us who have and continue to experience the effects of the “browser wars” and the large amounts of coding and recoding necessary to address each user interface/browser combination, the solution is a more than welcome one.
The JQuery Mobile platform seeks to address the following mobile operating systems to accommodate a consistent application programming interface and a small footprint. To business owners, this is distinguished as a) easy maintenance, b) consistent user experiences and c) fast user downloads. The platforms addressed by JQuery Mobile include:
- iOS (Apple)
- Android (Google)
- Blackberry (Blackberry)
- bada (Samsung)
- Window Phone (Microsoft)
- palm webOS (Palm/HP)
- symbian (Nokia)
- MeeGo (Open Source)
- The Filament Group
- The Mozilla Corporation
- Device Atlas
From a technical perspective the framework offers branded experiences through consistent theming frameworks ensuring sites do not need to be cookie cutter interfaces yet will offer similar experiences across platform. This allows web developers to focus on features, functionality, user interface design and content as opposed to worrying about accessibility and inconsistencies across devices. This often takes up to 50% of the level of effort in developing a mobile initiative along with the corresponding maintenance and upgrade headache.
The framework also satisfies the concept of ‘progressive enhancement’ which is a “strategy for web design that emphasizes accessibility, semantic HTML markup, and external stylesheets and scripting technologies. Progressive enhancement uses web technologies in a layered fashion. It allows everyone to access the basic content and functionality of a web page, using any browser or Internet connection while also providing those with better bandwidth or more advanced browser software an enhanced version of the page”.
Further analysis and testing shows that the alpha release currently supports many of the modern smartphones which is the mainstay of the mobile web anyway.
- Blackberry 6
- Win Phone 7
There are a few complementary and competitive frameworks out there and to not mention any of them would be a disservice to. You may want to consider Sencha or JQtouch as an alternative and PhoneGap is a fantastic solution to wrap your JQuery Mobile website as native mobile application but that’s another post.
Enjoy Going Mobile with The Who on iTunes or watch it on YouTube.