Designing for the device

I just attended the Web Standards Group Sydney meetup and saw another set of great presentations. The two on mobile development were of particular interest, though – a) because I’m presenting at Web Directions South in the same session time as Tim and Pete’s ‘Developing for the iPhone’ presentation (of which tonight’s was a preview); and b) because I’m interested in developing for the new breed of browsers coming on the market.

Ever since the iPhone was released my interest has focused around how the change in context will impact behaviour and usage of such a device (Tim and Pete’s presentation had some interesting stats on this front – tease). The iPhone is not just a phone – and it’s the context of use of having a usable, internet enabled device with a well designed and innovative interface (the multi-touch screen) that I’m really keen to both experience and design/develop for.

Tim, Pete and the team at have done a great job with the iPhone specific UI for News Limited – I really appreciate the iterative approach they outlined and how that has resulted in quite a nice interpretation.

During both mobile related presentations tonight the idea of developing a UI for a specific device was raised as both essential – to leverage the capabilities native to the device, such as the multi-touch screen and click to call in the iPhone’s case – and problematic – from the standpoint of standards-based development and the overhead of developing for multiple platforms.

I think that the experience demonstrates that standards will still play an important role – peeking under the hood of the iPhone version still shows an awful lot of standards-savvy markup, and from the sound of things it should be possible to “port” the iPhone version to other enhanced mobile browsers in due course.

But I suspect it will be some time before mobile-oriented development will standardise to the point of traditional web browsers. With a PC/Mac/Linux etc. there’s a core, dominant interaction paradigm in place – a mouse, a window, a browser, common UI elements. With mobile devices, that completely changes. The interaction paradigms are quite different between platforms – using a joystick vs. buttons vs. a numeric keypad vs. a QWERTY keyboard vs. a touch-screen etc.

Some level of customisation will be required to make the user experience a positive one on different classes of devices. Hopefully, though, these different classes will start to consolidate fairly quickly, so we can target groups of devices – i.e. multi-touch (see the Nokia iPhone for example) vs. QWERTY vs. tradition – rather than having to support each individual device from each manufacturer.

One thought on “Designing for the device

  1. Thanks for coming along and seeing the preso Grant.

    Yeah I think there’s definitely going to either be some kind of convergence in terms of interaction and technology for the new mobiles, and if not we’ll just have to be figuring out new standards to accommodate the various needs. It’s definitely early days so it’s hard to design and develop for a wide range of devices, though WebKit seems to becoming ever-more prevalent.

    I think for now the desktop / mobile / mobile2 split is a fairly good one considering how much work goes into the vanilla mobile sites making them usable with such limited ways of navigating, and how different that navigation model is for the new larger touch screen devices.

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