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Future of mobile site design

By David Evans

Mobile device usage across the Internet is experiencing exponential growth with a plethora of smartphone and other mobile devices that have become easily within reach. In certain countries, there is more time spent browsing the Internet on mobile devices than on desktop PCs. Mobile is all about location.

I know what you are thinking, “Tell me something I don’t already know.”

Well, let us say, for example, I take two tablets and I stick one to my fridge at home and I stick the other in the dashboard of my car. Should they still be considered mobile devices? But, more importantly, should you get the exact same user experience over the Internet on both devices?

The mobile device industry is becoming more distorted with hardware manufacturers adapting device design and functionality to cater for the different scenario types.

To keep up, your Web site has to as well. Smartphone and tablet usage statistics shows a peak in activity during the evenings, with other studies introducing the concept of couch browsing with users interacting with multiple screens whilst at home.

But should you consider someone browsing the Internet on their home sofa, the same as someone browsing the Internet when in a store? How best can businesses combat the issue of showrooming?

We are now at a crossroads where you can no longer optimize the user experience based solely on device, you need to look at the context in which that device is being used.

It is important for businesses to maintain a competitive advantage and to see mobile sites evolve from their current cookie-cutter designs to use a location-aware context. As such, location-optimized design should not be a default if the user is in her home, but should be if she is not.

The challenge, however, is identifying the user’s location or, more importantly, you need to put their location into context of whether they are at home, at work or travelling.

You can then have a mobile site that can adapt to whether the user is at home or walking around in your store.

To do this you need some clever functionality that can determine based on the user’s location, the context of that location. This can be achieved by storing a user’s location data at the time of activity and making assumptions.

For example, you can assume that the majority of activity in the evening will most likely be done from a user’s home location, and from this you can derive other relevant location data.

There are obviously other use cases and possibly third-party providers can provide additional data. But you also need your mobile site to know the user’s location when she requests the Webpage so the page design can be adapted accordingly. This can be achieved in the following ways:

• Update your site to use HTML5 location-aware libraries. Your site can then dynamically adapt its content based on knowing exactly where the user is located. This does require the user granting permission to do this and only works well on devices with GPS.

• Use IP-based targeting. This is a good option as it is not intrusive to the user, but location accuracy is reduced and it is not always reliable due to proxy servers.

• User location can also be derived from the mobile cell mast tower the user is connected to. For the mobile Web, this would require the wireless carriers to provide this data, which they do not.

• The simplest option is to allow the user to choose their preferred site design. This way each time the user accesses the site from the same device, they will always get the same user experience they set previously.

AS THE LINES between what is mobile and what is not becomes more blurred, it is important to start to consider more attributing factors.

You now have “Web” and “location Web” based on the concept of where the device is located and not just what the device is. It is important to note that location-aware design is only one of many attributing factors that can be used to adapt your site’s design.

As businesses are heterogeneous, there are other context-driven design concepts that should be considered based on each businesses proposition. The perfect scenario would be to read the user’s thoughts and adapt the site accordingly.

David Evans is solutions architect at Amobee, London. Reach him at [email protected].