Team Interview: Designing for the Mobile Phone, Part Three

February 11, 2009 9:13 pm

In this final segment of their discussion about designing and programming for mobile phones, Christopher Ehren, LEAP’s Creative Director, and Jeremy Kolonay, LEAP’s Director of Web Software Services, share their thoughts about what they think will be in store for mobile sites in the future.
For the first two parts of their discussion, Part One is linked here and Part Two is no longer available.

Where do you envision mobile applications and sites going in the next few years in terms of design and functionality?

Christopher Ehren: I wouldn’t generalize mobile applications and sites even at this point because of segmentation – is it a data driven site like movie times or weather or is it an entertainment media site because a lot of media driven sites are having mobile redirects? YouTube is a perfect example. They’re using Google’s detection to determine where somebody is coming from so they serve them the proper frame size for their video serving. So I really don’t think the applications on the web are going to change. I think we’ll see more like the iPhone and BlackBerry – more dedicated apps that do the job of serving information that normally would be served through a website like movie times, sports scores, and weather. So I think we’re going to see more specific applications for serving the type of data or presenting the type of media or entertainment. I don’t think the site design will change that much. If anything, there will be fewer mobile websites and more mobile applications.

Jeremy Kolonay: Another thing I’ll add to that is from a consumer’s perspective. For the generation of mobile devices coming out now like the iPhone and the G1, we find that they are in a place where the battery life and CPU performance allows us to offer a full featured Safari ready device. My iPhone is as powerful as my PC was 7 years ago. Maybe not with the same 3-D capabilities but as far as the actual CPU in it, that’s a 400 megahertz CPU.
The one nice thing is the companies that don’t want to make the investment, don’t see the value, or don’t have the capital to invest in developing a mobile experience, they are going to have a new audience on the mobile market because the mobile providers have decided to do the work to provide users with a full web experience. I don’t have to rely on whether a site is going to render correctly when I open it on my iPhone. There are very few snafus as opposed to opening a site on any mobile phone from even two years ago.
The one thing I don’t think will ever change is I don’t think anyone will ever standardize for every different ratio of height vs. width on an actual display on a device. The optimized experience on a Razor is going to be far different than the optimized experience on an iPhone.

Christopher: One of the early drivers of exploring those templates both from an engineering and code standpoint and design was the Internet Advertising Bureau because if the IAB was going to sell mobile ad space, then those ads needed to render in a not only an impactful but a legible state. They couldn’t be serving 468 x 60 ads that got rendered in a 320 x 240 space. Advertisers weren’t going to pay for that. The ad size standards, as a result, were some of the first phone template standards to be developed.

Jeremy: I’m happy that as time goes forward we are able to get away with a lot more because phone providers are starting to realize that they should try to give their customers real Internet. However, there are a lot of amazing things targeted to these individual platforms and I think that should continue. These are more, generally speaking, application oriented. I’m going to the site, I’m interacting, I’m providing information, and I’m getting information back.

Christopher: And all of the graphics and interface elements are designed for that specific application, not a general website experience. A stock widget delivers stock prices, and the fonts, colors, shapes, and accent graphics were chosen for that finite 480 x 320 screen – a specific screen dimension rather than being designed to scale.
Jeremy: Mobile applications in general, though, are great because they provide a pretty interface optimized for a given phone. An application is going to be targeted for the one device you’ve written it for. The notable exception is Symbian phones which have a very lightweight Java Micro virtual machine on them. So in theory you could write once, deploy many. But the cool thing is that in the background, it’s still relying on web technologies to get information to and from the server. It’s just in a different front end.