By 2014, mobile Internet is poised to take over desktop Internet usage. With smartphones and tablet devices like the iPad penetrating the mobile market, media consumption was at an all-time high in 2010 and is on a steady increase. A recent study from the Pew Internet & American Life Report shows that 26% of American adults get some form of news via their cell phone, with cell users under 50 almost three times as likely as their older counterparts to get news on the go. With numbers like these, the growth of mobile Internet is driving companies to take a long, hard look at their current digital strategies and put mobile first.
We’ve reported here on 10,000 Words about ways to create a mobile version of your website, and even spotlighted 15 well-designed iPad news applications and 21 iPhone-friendly news sites, but the work of creating a mobile application (or mobile website) for your news organization is less about aggregating current content and more about developing an information workflow based on the device and on how people use that device. Here are a few basic principles to have in mind when it comes to developing your mobile presence.
Keep It Simple
Because the screen size of mobile devices has a pretty wide range, it’s important to keep the interface of your mobile application or site as simple as possible. You don’t want to make it difficult for users to read the news if they’ve taken the time to download the application or navigate to your mobile site. Use a grid layout to logically organize headlines and stories, and allow enough space between links and modules to allow users to navigate without mistakenly clicking other links. For mobile websites, using responsive web design techniques allows for your layout to fit according to the dimensions and viewing orientation of the viewing device.
Reuters' iPad app has an easy to read grid layout with intuitive controls.
By contrast, The Associated Press' iPad app shows stories are that not aligned in a grid format, and the design is not clean and concise.
Keep Dual Orientation Support in Mind
When you are designing your mobile application or mobile website, you want to design for two different orientations — landscape and portrait. This is especially important for mobile applications. You don’t want elements of your app to disappear or lose prominence when you turn your device from one position to another. This goes for navigation as well — make sure that the type of navigation matches the orientation of the device once it’s rotated (horizontal for landscape, vertical for portrait)
Notice how the Rachel Maddow Show application has navigation controls at the top of the viewport, including a link to a Twitter Watch Party.
In landscape mode, that navigation disappears. Where did it go?
Keep Flash at a Minimum
While there are mobile devices which can run Flash, using Flash should be avoided for both mobile sites and applications. For video, recent studies show that HTML 5 outperforms Flash on mobile devices. In case HTML 5 is not an option, offer streaming video options which utilize the device’s native video player. Streaming quality can change whether the user is on 3G or WiFi, so you will want to have a specific benchmark and format in mind for video delivery.
Notice the small video control on the thumbnail in the articles.
Splash pages are usually a no-no for mobile apps, but this splash page serves as a loading screen while the video buffers.
Keep Social Media and Sharing
Sharing content should be a key feature of any news mobile application or website. Users should be able to easily post news from your app or website to their social networks. If you include nothing else in your mobile presence strategy, make sure that sharing options and social media links are there.
On this app, the article can be shared via email, Facebook, Twitter, or Instapaper.
These are just a few considerations news organizations should take into account when developing their mobile presence. What are some other things that should be taken into account? Leave your suggestions in the comments!