Mobile-izing an Existing Site

There has been a lot of talk amongst my clients lately on how to make our existing sites more mobile device compatible. We have done some brainstorming, and have come up with some ideas on how to do this.

Build a separate site

The simplest thing to do would be to do build a separate site for mobile users. Some simple user agent switching based on the user’s browser can take mobile phone users to the separate site. The new site can then be tailored for smaller screens, be less graphics intensive, and develop alternative solutions for Flash components.

Full Redesign of the existing site

Another possibility would be to build one site that has enough logic to manage multiple resolutions. This could be through multiple master pages, separate sets of images, JavaScript to display different image sizes, different CSS files, and a fluid CSS based layout without tables. This can be cumbersome and time-consuming, but may be a good approach long term. This will accommodate both large monitors on desktops, smaller resolutions on netbooks, and tiny resolutions on mobile phones.

Hybrid approach

One approach we are considering is a hybrid approach, combining the strengths of the first two approaches. If we have two domains with user agent switching, we can optimize each of the sites – one for mobile users and one for full browser users. Each site could have its own master page or template with its own separate set of images. We can reduce the work by tagging the reusable content with specific div or span labels, and reuse them on the mobile site.

Build a Mobile App instead

Building a separate mobile application for each of the major phone platforms would allow the development team to tailor the user experience to the individual phone. Delivery to the phones and advertising the mobile application may make the user base smaller. We would also need to develop across at least 4 different platforms – Android, iPhone, Windows Mobile, and Palm. There are multiple versions of the platform to manage, as well. The phones that use a custom platform would then miss out on the entire mobile experience.

Invest in a tool or 3rd party

There are lots of third party tools that can be used to help migrate or transform your site into a more mobile friendly experience. Some of the companies who develop and support these tools either have fully managed solutions or have a consulting services group that can be hired to help you through this process. There are also a lot of companies who say that they specialize in mobile-izing sites that you can contract with, and I am sure they are not cheap.

Do Nothing

The further technology advances, the more this option becomes really viable. The iPhone’s browser has multi-touch pinch-to-size technology, allowing you to zoom in and out of the HTML page. The Android is releasing this as well very soon, but in the interim has a zoom feature. Even the old Windows Mobile 6.0 phone I used to use had a custom browser with zoom technology for the pages it rendered. the more improvements in technology, the less developers will need to customize based on resolution.

What are your thoughts?

What are you or your team doing to break into the mobile arena? Do you prefer one of these solutions over another? Do you have another idea or approach you would use? What tools or 3rd parties are you using to mobile-ize your site? Leave your thoughts, ideas, or experiences here and share with others!
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4 thoughts on “Mobile-izing an Existing Site

  1. Jesse Squire

    Given the environment, the only approaches that I see as feasible would be "Build a Separate Site" or "Do Nothing." The most attractive option, from a technological standpoint, would be "Full Redesign of the existing site," however with the decidedly poor quality of HTML that comes from the agencies and the challenges of getting clean, well-formed, and structured XHTML from your outsourcing partners, I just don't see that being feasible from a cost or time-to-market standpoint. Sadly, the focus on high quality web assets just isn't there.I dislike "Build a Mobile App instead" emphatically. In addition to being prohibitive in terms of development/maintenance cost and time-to-market, it's gimmicky at best. You have nothing beyond the content of your website to share with me. Why in the world do I want to take up space on my phone by holding your app?Out of the two options that I flagged "do nothing" is probably the way that I would go. If you can get marginally better output from your agencies and outsourcing partners in regards to user experience and XHTML/CSS quality, modern mobile browsers should have little difficulty parsing a site full targeted at providing medical information.

    Reply
  2. jim

    I’m late into this discussion, necro-commenting if you will. But wouldn’t a swapping of css based on mobile vs. !mobile os/browser be an option?

    Reply

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