Your mobile strategy.. Start with the foundations
There are many articles and blogs out there offering support and advice on how you should approach your mobile strategy. The kind of questions we are told to ask ourselves are, should I build an App or mobile site, should I develop for iOS, Android or Windows, should I build a separate tablet offering… STOP!
You should only be asking yourself one question… How do I place myself in a position to cater for all of these!
Now although none of these articles are necessarily wrong I think they are missing out on a key bit of advice that would likely ensure you aren’t faced with the same issue in 5 years time when the next big thing starts to arise.
Lets face it, it’s not just about mobile, it’s also about smart TV’s, games consoles, e-readers, social networks, tablets, the cloud etc.
So, how do we cater for all of these and how can you ensure your company can adapt quickly to current and future emerging technologies? The answer is simple really, start with the foundations.
If you build a new extension on your house you can’t just lay the bricks, you have to dig deep and build the foundations first and the same applies for online platforms.
The heart and soul of any online service is the data that feeds it, so this is where you should start. After all, the current and future platforms you cater for will still be using the same data, it’s just how that data is presented to the user that changes.
Below is the order I feel a product strategy should take, regardless of the products you are looking at catering for.
My advice for any online business that is looking to branch out to other platforms is to build a strong webservice/API. Essentially an API is a system that allows your data to be accessed and presented in a way that can be easily understood by other technologies. Perhaps the best way to describe it would be a universal plug adapter. No matter where you are in the world you can connect to any plug socket using one product. When we travel we don’t cut the cords of our electrical items and add new plugs to each one, we just take an adapter that converts our plug to a connection that is compatible with the power supply of the country we are visiting. An API does the same thing. Regardless of the product we want to integrate with an API gives us a universal solution that can plug into any system, whether it be iOS, Android, Symbian, Perl, PHP, ASP… you name it!
So, build a strong and flexible webservice for your online service and your life will be made a lot easier when developing new products. It leaves you free to evolve your service. Development time and cost will be hugely reduced and will allow you to be more experimental with emerging technologies. Whether your business develops its products in-house or not, the universal solution of an API will prove to be a huge time saver and a strong foundation for any product.
When building a house its important to choose the right materials. The bricks we choose should be able to support the structure we are building and should take into consideration where they are going to be placed and the different environmental conditions they are going to be exposed to. The same applies to developing online products, we should choose a ‘material’ that can stand the test of time and adapt to the different environments it will be exposed to.
We are fortunate enough now to not have to make the decision of whether to build an app or a mobile site. There is no reason why we can’t build both! This is namely thanks to HTML 5. HTML 5 is quickly becoming a popular codebase and more importantly fully supported by the majority of new products including Smart Phones, Tablets, PC’s, Smart TV’s, Games Consoles… the list goes on!
HTML 5 allows us to build a service that can mimic the user experience we get from native applications and best of all its in a language that most web developers should find easy to understand. What’s even better is that you can build one solution that serves as your mobile site and mobile/tablet app. You can even utilize features that were previously only available to a natively coded app, such as push notifications. Using services like PhoneGap.com your HTML5 site quickly transforms into a feature rich application that can be launched as an app across all the major app stores.
So, the ‘material’ you choose is almost as important as the foundation you place it on. Although HTML 5 may be the best ‘material’ now, it pays to constantly keep up to date with emerging codebases to ensure that the products you build are as compatible and future proof as possible.
As with every property the final touches lie in the finish. The finishing touches serve two purposes, 1 to make the property look good and 2 functionality. The form our living room takes is often dictated by where we plan to place the TV, there is no point in placing the TV in an awkward position that isn’t viewable when sitting on the sofa. Each room in a home serves a different purpose and the final finish will not only define the room but will have a functional purpose.
The final touches on an online product are essentially the same. We need to consider the environment each product will be used in and the device that will be used to access it. Different devices function differently. E.g. a person that uses a smart TV to browse online content will navigate in a very different way to one that uses their mobile. By making small tweaks to a design for each platform we can ensure that the best possible experience can be gained. There is no need for a major change for each platform, it may just be a case of layout that will differ.
Taking a modular approach to design will really aid in achieving a flexible template that can easily change its layout and navigation depending on the device that is being used to access it. Certain layout rules can then be put in place relating to screen size and navigation method. A good example could be the difference between a phone app and a tablet app. Since the screen on a tablet is larger it makes sense to allow the user to navigate the app or site more quickly by dedicating some of the space on the screen for fixed navigation. However for a phone this navigation should only appear when the user wants to see it, which in turn ensures that the limited space available is maximized.
The rule with any strategy is to think ahead, don’t just think of the short-term solution, rather devise a solution that is scalable. This more than ever is an important approach to take, with so many platforms emerging you will quickly lose out by focusing on one product.