In a recent presentation made by Henry Blodget of Business Insider, he referenced information stating that, in 2011, smart phone sales outpaced PC sales, and will continue to do so, as will sales of tablets. His projection is that the future of the Internet is mobile. For his full slide deck, click here.
But what does this mean for us, the designers and programmers of websites?
Well, currently, most websites are built adaptively. Meaning that they work on the most popular devices – PCs, laptops, a few tablets and a few smart phones. As mobile continues to dominate, the number of – and number of varying – devices will grow. So we can continue to build sites that work on the most popular devices, and build 4 or 5 or even 6 different versions. From a business standpoint, that doesn’t make sense for us, as creators, or for our clients. The better answer?
Responsive web design. Build one site that automagically knows on which device it’s being viewed (ok, this is not actually magic, it’s a process called “media queries”) and “responds” individually to that device to provide the best user experience. A few great examples are Mashable (which was recently redone) and the Boston Globe. Try it – open a browser window with these sites and make it all different sizes. It will respond to your changes and fit to the size of the window. Now, try it on your smart phone. Instead of scrolling around, clicking, zooming and squinting at your mobile device to view a site that was built to be viewed on a bigger screen or a scaled down, feature-lacking version built for your phone, you get the full user experience on any screen.
What does this change mean for our clients? The impact is multi-faceted, but the initial difference may manifest in longer lead times for website creation, as well as higher upfront costs. However, if a client is invested in catering to their customers – and keeping up with their lifestyles and consumption needs – the investment in a site that will serve those customers whenever and wherever is well worth the brand-loyalty that will doubtless follow.