Is responsive design the solution for mobile woes?

Mobile app development isn’t the only way to provide mobile visitors with a quality browsing experience.  Responsive design could be the answer.

After almost 20 years, our love affair with the smart device is still going strong.  Over 1.6 million of us regularly use our smartphone to browse the internet, consume news, check our bank balance or chat to friends.

In the last six months alone, tablet ownership has doubled in Ireland and according to eircom’s most recent Household Sentiment Survey, 1.2 million people will have access to a tablet by the end of the year,

So what does this mean for the humble website?

Well, quite a lot actually, particularly when you consider that 82pc of people have researched a product or service using their phone in the last year and 36pc have actually made an online purchase, according to digital agency, Gaumina.

Mobile website traffic is growing exponentially and the browsing experience from a mobile device, whether iOS, Android or Windows Phone, must be optimised to meet the challenges posed by such diversity of device and operating platform.

“We’re now seeing an average of 30pc of visitors from smartphone or tablets, with mobile users roughly doubling in each of the past two years,” said Joe Conlon, sales and marketing director with Webtrade.

“Of those, our business-to-consumer and shopping cart clients are averaging 45pc mobile visits and business-to-business websites hitting averages of 20pc,” he said.

For some organisations, the answer has been to develop their own mobile app that delivers a truly interactive experience and in some cases, revolutionises service delivery.

In a recent survey on the banking sector from PML Group, 44pc of Dubliners – rising to 66pc of 25 to 34 year olds – have downloaded a banking app.  And 14pc of all respondents said they use a banking app on a daily basis.

But mobile app development is not always the most appropriate response to changing consumer consumption.

Responsive design or the ability to build a single website to gracefully and intelligently re-size itself to fit the screen size of a mobile device could be the panacea for all our mobile woes.

“An installable mobile app usually only makes sense if a business needs something like an ‘application’, ‘tool’ or interactive brand building application or game that needs to work even when not connected to the web,” according to Conlon.

“A responsively designed ‘web app’ can give just as good a user experience as a native app can, through responsive HTML5 and CSS3 technologies. Given the extra budget, added marketing effort and encouragement it takes to get a user to actually install a native app, it’s no surprise that there’s much more focus on web apps than native apps,” he remarked.

Around 90pc of work done by Webtrade is now focused on responsive designed websites rather than traditional desktop-only design.

It’s a trend that Chad Gilmer, managing director with iPLANiT also confirms.

“We’ve seen a huge increase in requests for mobile apps but budget is a big issue,” he said.   “Clients don’t realise that this functionality can be added to their website and more budget-strapped organisations will opt for a responsive designed website rather than putting the functionality into dedicated app as there is a cost associated with managing iOS or Android deployment.”

In fact, Gilmer believes that the future is not just about smartphones or mobile tablets.

We are looking at developing interfaces that work on all types of surfaces.  It could be a screen on your wall or the front door of your fridge.  We’re designing large impactful images that can scale and be responsive.  It’s not here right now but it’s coming very shortly.”

Article appeared in the Sunday Business Post’s Computer in Business supplement on October 6, 2013.

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