How we launched a slick new ITBusiness.ca mobile site

Snazzy 4G smartphones, tablet devices galore and slightly less expensive data plans are driving more people to view digital content on their mobile devices. In a bid to offer our readers a better mobile experience, ITBusiness.ca recently launched a new mobile Web site.

ITBusiness.ca’s mobile site offers up our breaking news, feature articles, blogs, photos, videos and social content in a format specially design to render beautifully on smartphone and tablet screens.

Some of its key features are:

  • Cleaner site design formatted for mobile devices
  • Consistent user interface and easy to use navigation tools
  • Mobile access to videos embedded in articles and a video library
  • Convenient articles and categories pages
  • Provides social sharing and commenting tools on articles
  • A social page showing various accounts and comment activity

View our mobile site here

Lessons learned

Our move to the mobile space did not come without challenges. By overcoming those challenges we learned some lessons we thought we might share with our readers who may be considering a mobile presence as well.

Ease of navigation and consistent user interface (UI) are critical elements of a good mobile Web site, according to Jeff Radecki, lead Web designer for ITBusiness.ca. For this reason, he chose jQuery Mobile, an HTML-5-based mobile design tool for creating sites and applications that work across smartphone, tablet and desktop operating systems such as: BlackBerry, Android, iOS, WindowsPhone, Symbian, Palm WebOS, Bada and MeeGo.

Creating a mobile-optimized Web page can eat up valuable time and resources for many startups. That is why a tool that enables users to get right into the details and functionalities they need is important, he said.

“jQuery Mobile takes the mantra “Write less, do more” to the next level,” said Radecki. “Using HTML-5 and CSS (cascading style sheets) 3, it provides the most simple code to do extraordinary thing.”

He also said jQuery tools are very relevant to the way users view content on mobile screens. “A huge benefit is that it uses responsive design and percentage-based designs that automatically adapt to different orientations, devices and screen sizes.”

Click on this link and play around with jQuery for yourself.

Here are other things Radecki found out while working on the mobile site:

  • As awesome as Ajax navigation and page transitions are, shoving all the information needed to serve up ads, videos and comments in a DOM (Document Object Model) request is just not feasible. Mobile browsers cannot handle bandwidth-eating content such as those found in Web browser.
  • More advanced content formatting for maximum image sizes, feature callouts and others, require additional CSS.
  • Testing mobile is always a problem as there are hundreds of different configurations out there and new devices are being released everyday.
  • Creating a mobile site that configures itself across mobile PCs, smartphones and tablets requires a lot of effort, time and testing.

 

Why a mobile site is important

For many businesses a mobile site may be indispensible, according to Dev Basu, search engine optimization (SEO) expert and president of Toronto-based Power by Search.

Basu said it is important for businesses to be available where their clients can be found.

“Mobile is the space where consumers are. A recent Google report indicates that year-over-year mobile usage is up around 400 per cent. One of our clients recently told us that their mobile traffic is moving up 10 to 15 per cent and could reach 25 per cent by year’s end,” he said.

The big drivers for the exodus to the mobile space, Basu said, are the breakneck-speed release of new, more powerful and exciting smartphones, tablets and crossover mobile devices as well as the increasing access to lower-cost of mobile and data plans.

Basu said businesses seeking to develop a mobile presence, basically have three choices for creating a mobile Web site:

Quick and easy – There are site that lets users basically create a mobile version of their existing Web site. In some cases, Basu said, it’s as easy as typing your site’s URL and allowing the tool to parse your data and create a mobile version of the site. Cost can be as low as $9.99 and sites such as Duda Mobile even offer some services for free.

This method is very quick but will likely limit your creativity options to the templates available on the site.

Create your own from scratch – You can also make use of services that offer easy-to-use tools for creating your own mobile site. Some site may require some coding knowledge. Picking just the right widgets may take some time, but the payoff is a more customized site geared to your customers’ needs and tastes. Check out Mobifi.com.

Have the professionals do it – You can also enlist the services of a mobile Web site design firm to create the site for you. This is ideal if you don’t have the time and training to create your own site and if your budget allows it. Check out B-Street Communications.

 

How a mobile app can help

Nowadays its almost a given that a business have a mobile web site, according to Eugene Woo, a partner and chief developer at Apptellect, a Toronto-based mobile development firm that specializes in mobile apps.

However, to complete your company’s mobile presence, you might want to consider a mobile app, he said. “In many instance, businesses find that having a mobile Web site is not enough. A mobile app tends to enrich their customers’ mobile experience and improve the company’s interaction with its clients.”

While mobile Web sites are essentially Web sites “optimized for mobile browsers,” mobile apps are native applications designed for specific functions. These are apps that people download to their phones or tablets.

Woo said there is a wide variety of mobile apps that businesses can order to provide services, complete tasks or even just provide entertainment specifically relevant to their customers.

For example, location-based apps using GPS-navigation can help people locate store branches using their smartphones.

“Mobile apps can be designed for countless things. For example a dry cleaning business can provide customers a phone app that tells customers when to pick up their clothes or message the store when to have the clothes ready for pickup,” said Woo.

One furniture business offers a mobile app that offers quick advice on how to deal with emergencies such as fabric stains. The app also lets customers send mobile phone photos of their damaged furniture to the store. “This saves customers a trip to the store and gets them a faster response to their problems,” said Woo.

In other instances, a mobile app can be used for push notifications. “Businesses can use apps for branding and marketing purposes. Push notifications enable companies to send out targeted product updates or marketing messages to users who have signed up to have the messages sent to their mobile devices because they are interested in this sort of information,” said Woo.

Nestor ArellanoNestor Arellano is a Senior Writer at ITBusiness.ca. Follow him on Twitter, read his blog, and join the IT Business Facebook Page.

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