I went to the Breaking Development 2012 conference in Orlando last week. There were a lot of great topics about the evolving mobile landscape, responsive web design, and content delivery. This is my (longer than expected) overview of my takeaways from the conference. Brad Frost has some great notes on the individual sessions, which I’ve linked to at the bottom.
Content Is King
It’s all about content. To be successful, you have to deliver good, valuable content. A slick website is great, and a slick app is great, but don’t lose sight of their purpose. They are simply interfaces to your content. “Build an app” is not a business strategy, as this alone means nothing.
Once you realize that it’s about the content and not the interface, then you start to see content as a device-agnostic commodity, which is very much aligned with the current evolution of the web. Read on…
The Device Landscape Is Changing
Mobile web usage is expected to exceed desktop web usage within 2 years. Many people use their mobile devices as their primary access to the web. 28% of mobile web users never or rarely use desktops to access the web. The perception that mobile users only want a limited, scaled-down experience is simply not true. For example, eBay sells 2,500 cars per week via mobile devices. We can no longer segment mobile users off into a second-class category.
It’s Not Just Mobile
So, yes, we need to cater to mobile devices. A lot of companies already know this. But to be future-proof, you have to think even further. Remember when browser sniffing was commonplace on the web? This tactic was sustainable when we only had 2 major browsers to worry about. But with 5 major browsers today, this is just not practical.
History is repeating itself with devices. We used to be content with just desktop and smartphone support. But recent years have seen a surge in tablet usage. And now there are web-enabled TVs on the market. Cars and gym equipment are web-enabled. The list is growing.
So what can we do to prepare for this “impending zombie apocalypse” of devices? To me, this is better asked as 2 questions: How do we get our content to all these devices? And how do we keep up with creating interfaces for all these devices?
Create Once, Publish Everywhere
How do we get our content to all these devices? In a word (or 3), APIs. Put your content into a single source, then use APIs to share to all your applications. Furthermore, opening your API to the public could yield unexpected bonuses. NRP adopted a “create once, publish everywhere” philosophy when creating their public APIs and saw an 80% increase in pageviews as a direct result.
Of course, there’s more to it than just “make an API”. Your content needs to be well-suited for it. This means having clean, well-structured data that is platform-agnostic and completely disjointed from your presentation layer. It must be truly portable.
Responsive Web Design
How do we keep up with creating interfaces for all these devices? There is no absolute answer to this question, but there is a really popular one: responsive web design. A single well-crafted responsive site can serve any device, on any platform, with any sized screen, as long as a decent browser is installed. All with a single code base, without having to learn platform-specific programming languages.
Responsive web design is not the undisputed solution to every problem ever, but it does show a lot of promise as a cost effective and highly sustainable option.
As promised, here are Brad Frost’s notes by session:
- Performance Implications of Mobile Design
- Seven Deadly Myths of Mobile
- Adapting Ourselves to Adaptive Content
- The Mobile Browser World
- A Minimalist’s Guide to the Mobile Web
- Responsive Design Workflow
- The Immobile Web
- Here Be Dragons: Mobile Web and the Enterprise
- The Mobile Frontier
- Context Bloody Context
- Rolling Up Our Responsive Sleeves
- A Mobile Design Ethos
There are 2 more sessions that didn’t have notes, but the slides are posted online: