SpoolCast: Mobile Apps – Web-based or Native? – Q&A with Josh Clark

Sean Carmichael

February 23rd, 2011

Duration: 31m | 16 MB
Recorded: January, 2011
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With mobile quickly emerging as a viable and practical source of web based content, designers need to know how to adapt and keep up. With the sheer number of different devices out there it can be a daunting prospect. When do you need a mobile website? When should you have an app? What tools and techniques should you employ to address the needs of your users?

Josh Clark is a designer, developer and author of the book Tapworthy. He will also be joining us as one of the masters on our 2011 Web App Masters Tour this spring. And not only that, he will be presenting a Virtual Seminar with us in March. Josh joins Jared Spool in this podcast for a discussion about making the decision between mobile web and native apps.

Here’s an excerpt from the podcast.

“…in the same way that the phone demands a very different interface than the desktop, this middle ground area of tablet really does as well.

So one way that I think about it is that you have your mobile phone when you’re on the way to the coffee shop, but it’s your iPad that you use at the coffee shop.

The iPad is a device of calm and contemplation. It’s something that I’ve observed. A lot of people, if they’ve got an iPad on their desk, they’ll literally pick it up and go and sit in a more comfortable chair.

It’s something for a calmer state of mind for longer sessions than the iPhone.

And of course with the form factor too, it means that your hands and fingers rest in different areas. You have to use more of your arm than just a flick of the finger as you would with the phone.

So in fact when you’re designing for touch, this is one of the biggest things that I think is new for designers when they approach a touch screen platform, is that you really have to think about the physicality of the device.

To press a button on the iPad isn’t just a flick of the wrist like it would be to move the mouse on a desktop. You have to haul your arm over.

So there are honest to God issues of ergonomics to consider when you’re designing for touch devices. It’s entirely new to designers who are accustomed to the desktop.

So what you find a lot, I think, is that it’s not just a challenge of graphic design, which we as software designers on the desktop are often largely accustomed to. It’s really a challenge of industrial design because these devices are just blank slates with no interface to speak of until you impose one on it.

And because your interface defines the physicality of this device because it’s going to be worked by hands and fingers, then it means that you have to have all these ergonomic considerations of button placement. Where’s it going to be easiest for your hands to get at quickly?

Is it large enough? Are the things spaced out enough for fingers? It’s really like designing a physical handheld device in a lot of ways…”

Tune in to the podcast as Josh also covers these points:

  • Are the basic principles of mobile design going to stay the same for a while or are they changing?
  • How does a designer keep up with all of the different sizes and form factors of mobile devices?
  • Is it good practice to make a browser version to test limitations and get a better idea of what the native app needs to be?
  • What are the benefits of creating native apps for all the different platforms?

We’re really excited about the 2011 Web App Masters Tour. We’ll be coming to Philadelphia, Seattle, and Minnesota. Josh and 8 other Masters will share their insights and knowledge when it comes to designing web applications. We hope you’ll join us too.


Register with the promotion code WAMT by March 4, 2011 for any of the Tour cities and get $100 off.

One Response to “SpoolCast: Mobile Apps – Web-based or Native? – Q&A with Josh Clark”

  1. Stephanie Rieger Says:

    Hello,
    Nice podcast! Just passing on some comments regarding certain statements related specifically to mobile web development:

    “HTML 5 is already mature for mobile”
    HTML 5 is far from mature on mobile. The support is improving but there are still many unsupported aspects across all browsers. There are also wide variations in performance rendering certain features (such as CSS 3 transforms, animations etc) almost unusable on certain browsers (or devices).

    “the mobile web is astonishingly consistent”
    There is lots of fragmentation, even amongst single platforms. All Android devices run the same browser, however there is fragmentation across the browsers themselves. Some of this fragmentation is simply related to the various versions (1.5, 1.6, 2.0 etc) while other aspects relate to the actual implementation of each device by a given manufacturer and/or OEM. This pattern replicates itself across platforms as well (Symbian, iOS etc.) Lots of testing is still required and design techniques focussing on flexible/adaptive design are the most successful in terms of obtaining a consistent (yet never identical) result across platforms.

    “all devices running a version of the same browser”
    This is technically true however, mostly immaterial. There is no “mobile webkit”. Each manufacturer that uses WebKit implements and adapts their version differently. Differences (and bugs) can be due to all sorts of factors including the performance of the device itself. Certain aspects of the latest WebKit are just not appropriate for certain classes of device. The browser is therefore adapted accordingly. (e.g. there is a new touch based WebKit browser on mid-range Nokia featurephones and, amongst other things, this browser supports a lower JavaScript version)

    “Opera doesn’t support webkit”
    This is true, however there is a bigger picture here due to the goals of Opera and what their browsers are designed to do. Opera has two different mobile browsers. Opera Mini is primarily designed for simpler devices (featurephones). Pages are proxied and compressed on the Opera server, then served to the device. This enables a ‘smartphone-like web experience’ on very simple devices. It also reduceds the cost of usage dramatically due to the data compression. From an accessibility point of view, this is huge and close to 100 million people use Opera Mini each month for this very reason. Opera Mini is also very popular in the US as a significant number (at least 60%) of Americans don’t owen a smartphone. Opera’s web standards support is excellent however Opera Mini specifically, has limitations due to the proxy architecture. Opera Mobile is their second browser, designed for smartphones. It’s standards support is also excellent http://www.opera.com/docs/specs/productspecs/ and uses a proprietary layout engine named Presto.

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