2012 has been a very peculiar year in the technology market. For the first time since 2001, PC sales are projected to be lower than they were in the previous year. Meanwhile, the shift to mobile is happening at an extraordinary speed.
Tablet sales are expected to exceed 100m in 2013, and smartphones are overtaking feature phones. Indeed, mobile devices are on the tail of laptops in terms of sales figures. “I’ve decided not to buy a new one,” I’ve heard friends and colleagues say who lost or broke their laptops, “I only need my iPad, really.” According to comScore, the mobile web is set to overtake desktop internet at some point this year.
For businesses with a website, this means only one thing: you need to build one site for all the screens out there.
Apps seem like the obvious solution to reach a mobile audience, but how do you build one for every single app store? Yes, it’s as expensive and impractical as it sounds. Besides, apps aren’t as popular as we are led to believe. According to the Pew Research Center, 60 per cent of tablet users prefer reading news on the mobile web than via an app. A convenient mobile browser is more practical than downloading an app for every single website we need to visit. So I say, to any business, and not just media organisations: having a great mobile website must be the priority.
Enter responsive web design: a website that works equally well on every device.
A responsive website will adapt in different ways to fit any screen size. This means that whether you’re using a 27 inch desktop display or a mobile device, the website you’re viewing will shift and adapt its content to display it in the best possible way on the device being used. Try it out: the Real Business website is responsive. Make your browser window smaller and watch the images and content columns shrink, until the sidebar disappears altogether. Then increase the size of the window again, until the columns have reached their original sizes.
The benefits are obvious: You build a website once, and it works seamlessly across thousands of different screens. And yet, four out five organisations in the UK are still not designing their websites for smartphones and tablets.
Can you imagine the effect this may have on your clients? Coming across a website on your mobile or tablet that you can’t view correctly – zooming back and forth, moving right and left to read a column that doesn’t fit to the screen – is so discouraging to most users that they simply leave.
A recent study from Google confirms this with 61 per cent of its respondents saying they would “quickly move onto another site” if they struggled to find what they were looking for on a website that wasn’t optimised.
It’s an increasingly fragmented mobile landscape out there, and businesses need to consider how their website is being viewed across a whole range of devices, unless they want to miss out on a huge part of their audience.
Indeed, the best way to design a website is now to focus on smartphone users first. Start your design for small touchscreens and scale up from there. This can help ensure that your site satisfies users on any device and loads quickly on any type of internet connection. Then, scale up to tablets, and eventually to desktops.
It’s great that we can now design websites to be flexible and fluid. Images can be automatically adjusted, and we can work around layouts so they never break. It’s perfect for devices that switch from portrait orientation to landscape in an instant, or for users who switch from a large computer screen to an iPad throughout their daily routine. There are great designs out there – use them! 2013 is the year of mobile and the year of responsive design.