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Responsive Web Design: What is it?

Published on January 27, 2012
Tags: Web Design London, Mobile Application Development

We have seen plenty of times before how the proliferation of new web browsers and new web-supporting devices has led to a fragmentation in how people actually view the internet. We have also seen before that this can cause something of a headache for web designers and developers, who need to make sure their websites display on a whole range of devices.

One tactic that has been developed to help deal with this is responsive web design. This is an idea that has been around for a while, but it seems that 2012 is the year when it’s really set to take hold. With this in mind, let us take a look at what responsive web design is – and whether it is a positive development for the industry.

What is it?

Responsive website design is essentially exactly what it sounds like. It is a way of designing websites so that they effectively ‘respond’ to different platforms and browsers, with the aim that those sites will display as they should without further interference from web developers.

This is in contrast to some other methods of web design, which can require a separate design approach for each device being catered for. For example, mobile websites often require a separate design to a company’s main ‘desktop’ website. There is nothing inherently wrong with this approach, but the idea behind responsive web design is to be more holistic.

The idea was originally developed and put forward in 2010 by a man named Ethan Marcotte. Since then, the concept of responsive web design has gathered momentum and gradually become more popular. You can read the original article on the idea here; it is slightly technical, but if you’re unfamiliar with coding, you should be able to at least get the general idea.

The debate

As with any development in the world of website design, there is a debate as to whether or not responsive web design is as brilliant as some proclaim (if you type ‘responsive web design’ into the Twitter search box, for instance, you should be able to get a decent sense of this).

On the positive side of the debate, responsive web design is a useful tool for designers and developers who need to cater for a wide range of platforms. It allows layouts to be more fluid, and some reports suggest that it can significantly improve user experience, due to the fact it helps sites to display correctly across a wider selection of browsers.

Responsive web design also arguably helps to address the issues raised by so many devices – namely, how to cater for all of them. With so many options for web users these days, designing a website is not the (relatively) straightforward task that it once was. So, on the face of it at least, responsive web design is a positive development and more websites are starting to adopt this approach.

However, there is another side to this. Some people argue that even though it might be nice to be able to display the same site on a mobile device as on a desktop, the needs of the mobile user are not necessarily the same as the needs of a desktop user. This argument suggests that people are looking for different things depending on the device they use and so websites should be tailored to reflect that – for example, some suggest that mobile sites should be smaller and tighter and stricter as to the content that is included on them, which requires a slightly different approach to their design.

This means that, for some, unless responsive web design can adapt to also alter the information that is displayed as well as how it is displayed, it is still worth being somewhat sceptical of it. There is something in this argument; screen size is not the only consideration when translating sites between devices (for instance, how will the mouse cursor work on a small, finger-controlled touchscreen compared to a computer screen?).

Despite this, responsive web design is definitely an interesting development in the world of web development. We can expect to see much more of it throughout this year and beyond as more web designers become familiar with it and more websites start to adopt the approach. However, the issue of content still needs to be resolved, which suggests there is still further work to be done before we can declare that we have cracked the issue of catering for multiple internet devices.

By Chelsey Evans

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Web Design and Online Advertising an Evolving Relationship

Published on November 4, 2011
Tags: Web Design London, Mobile Application Development

One of the things that web designers often come under fire for is advertising. Many (probably most) sites these days feature advertising in some form: it can be a good source of revenue for businesses – including both the website on which the ad is displayed and the company displaying the ad, if it is done properly. However, web designers are sometimes criticised for the way these ads make the sites look – there’s an argument that ads make a site look messy and so detract from the overall design, no matter how well the website performs in other areas.

There is something in this argument, and any good web designer will tell you that there’s a fine line between advertising on a website being okay and it becoming overwhelming to the point where something needs to be done about it. But is it really the web designers fault at all?

After all, the counter argument would run that when a web design company creates a website, they are simply following the brief given to them by a client. If a client asks them to include space for advertising then this needs to be incorporated into the web design. Of course, the way it looks is still important as ads that look out of place or having too many of them can reduce their power and render them useless when compared with one or two well-placed, relevant ads on a page. But if a site relies heavily on advertising revenue and asks for this to be built into the design, there’s not always a huge amount of room to manoeuvre.

This is one of those debates where both sides have a point: some websites do look bad because they have so many ads on them, but many others are actually good examples of web design that successfully integrate valuable and useful ads into the site. It’s also a debate that is gradually becoming more prominent as the way we view the web changes.

We have discussed before about how smartphones, tablet computers and other devices are slowly starting to creep up on traditional web platforms such as PCs and laptops. This is changing lots of aspects of web design, from how you navigate sites (touchscreens versus mouse pointers, for instance) to the content you include on mobile websites (is it practical to simply copy the ‘regular’ website into mobile form?). Another aspect of web design it has an impact on is advertising.

Displaying ads on mobile sites doesn’t work in the same way as for laptops and desktops. Essentially, the screens are too small and so they can’t take the same amount of style or advertising. However, as more and more people start to use mobile web devices, the need to address this issue is growing as it seems unlikely the desire to generate revenue through online advertising is going to disappear.

Arguably, mobile websites provide interesting web design opportunities both in terms of their overall design and how they incorporate advertising. The specific challenges provided by the range of different operating systems and varying screen sizes means designers and developers have to be more inventive – and it’s possible to argue that this is working. For instance, take a look at some of the most popular apps, or tablet editions of newspapers. They’re changing the way they display information and making it appealing to the people who use these devices.

Developing specific and better mobile websites has the potential to make web designers, advertisers and companies think more carefully about the issue of advertising. It isn’t that hard to see why people find it so frustrating on traditional web platforms such as desktop computers; even now pop-ups have mostly disappeared, there is still a high concentration of ads on many sites.

Smaller screens and improving technology, though, means that mobile sites tend to include fewer ads overall – but the ones they do include are better targeted and, hopefully, of greater value to all concerned. It’s a development borne of necessity but one that’s sure to be welcomed as it continues. One good ad could potentially be worth a lot more than one hundred ill-placed ones. Decreasing need for multiple ads can also help to free up web design, leaving more room for innovation in design and bringing the focus back to content.

Overall, the issue of online advertising is one that’s set to stay. However, it seems that recent developments and the growing awareness of web users means that changes are coming – and with any luck, they’ll be changes for the better.

By Chelsey Evans

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Desktop PCs - the End of an Era?

Published on August 19, 2011
Tags: Internet Communication, Mobile Application Development

In the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t that long ago that the personal computer made its revolutionary entrance in the world of technology. After all, it was only in 1981 that the first PC was launched. The computer in question was the IBM 5150 and, at the time, it was at the cutting edge of technology.

The PC managed to stay at the leading edge for some time afterwards and is still massively popular today. For instance, based on Microsoft’s sales of the Windows 7 software, sales figures for the second quarter of 2011 stood at around 75 million – an impressive figure.

However, when you look a little beneath the surface, it is possible to see that the strong sales figures aren’t quite as sturdy as they first seem. In the second quarter of 2010, PC sales figures stood at around 80 million, meaning that there was a significant decline between last year and this year.

It is possible to give several reasons for this. One is that the recent global recession and resulting stuttering recovery, coupled with higher inflation and less disposable incomes for the people who previously might have bought PCs, have led to people tightening their belts rather than splashing out new technology.

This, though, is not the only explanation. Changes have been occurring in the market for a few years now, as new innovations come through and people start to acquire new and innovative devices that fill the space the PC once used to occupy. For instance, millions of people now own smartphones that have internet access, as well as other internet-capable devices, such as laptops, games consoles and tablet computers.

The tablet computer is an interesting one, especially as it leads us onto one of the technology giants of the moment: Apple. It was recently reported that Apple has got more money than the US government and, when you look at how well their sales are going – as well as the growing breadth of products that they have on offer – it isn’t hard to see why they are doing well.

For instance, even while the PC market was down 17.5% in Europe at the start of 2011, the market for Apple Macs was up by 10%. In Asia, Mac sales were up by 69.4%. This happened largely because more businesses and governments, as well as home users, are starting to use Macs in place of the traditional PC.

Apple is also the dominant force in the tablet market. If you combine all of the Android tablets, including the Samsung Galaxy Tab, EEE Pad and the Motorla Xoom, the Apple iPad is still outselling them by a ratio of 24:1. This certainly suggests that things are starting to shift away from the traditional ‘big players’ in home computing and moving in Apple’s favour.

There are several things that can help to explain Apple’s increasing dominance of the computing market. One is that it has a fairly impressive brand image that means its product launches are guaranteed to attract a large amount of attention. Another reason is that it has many more developers at its disposal than most other companies, meaning that Apple users are much more likely to benefit from state of the art apps ad other developments. 

All of this shows that even though changes are clearly afoot, the world of personal computing is still massive – and growing. 400 million personal computers are expected to be sold in 2011. Growing markets in developing countries are contributing to this, as is increased take-up of internet use.

Naturally, this raises several challenges for web designers and computer programmers, among others. For example, an increasing array of devices means there is an increasing array of factors to take into account when working in web design or coding. While this is undoubtedly a challenge, it also arguably provides more scope for the innovation we have heard so much about over the past few years, with increasing diversity in the type of devices that people are using to access the internet even as certain firms (Apple, Google) remain dominant.

It also raises interesting questions for consumers – the people who buy these products and are gradually moving away from PCs in favour of laptops and tablet computers. In particular, it raises the question of cost versus value: Apple products, for instance, aren’t necessarily the cheapest to buy and in some cases other manufacturers might offer better products (depending on your view, of course) and yet it seems that expense isn’t as big an issue for people as you might expect.

With the market still evolving, it is hard to predict exactly what will become of the PC over the next few years, but it’s sure to be very interesting to watch. The impact of Windows 8, whenever it is released, might offer some indication of what’s going on – or at least Microsoft’s response to what’s going on – but for now it seems as though rather than simply sticking to the trust old PC, people are increasingly looking for diversity, innovation, image and quality in the products they buy. It doesn’t seem like that’s going to change any time soon.

By Chelsey Evans

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Google, Amazon and the Android Mobile Application Market

Published on July 22, 2011
Tags: Mobile Application Development

More than a billion people in the world use services provided by Google. Commonly, these include the world-famous Google search engine and sites under its ownership, such as YouTube, as well as the increasingly popular Google Chrome web browser. Google currently also dominates the Android market, and essentially has unilateral control over it. In more recent developments, the company launched its new social networking site, Google+, only three weeks ago and it has already almost reached the twenty million user landmark.

All of this goes to show just how big Google is and how far reaching its influence is in the world of the web and other technological matters. There have been a few points of contention along the way, such as US courts ruling that the company should halt its attempts to create the biggest online library ever, and challenges made to the EU over the company’s dominance of the search market.

Now it appears as though Amazon is set to challenge Google by launching its own tablet computer, using Android technology. Rumours have been building for a while that Amazon is intending to launch its own tablet, and a week ago it appeared to become more certain, with some suggesting that the tablet could even launch before October. On the face of it, this seems to be more of a direct challenge to Apple and its iPad than it does to Google, but when you take into account Google’s control over the Android market it raises questions for the search giant as well.

One of the issues is that Google has reportedly stopped other hardware manufacturers from competing with its own Android devices. However, Amazon has got its own mobile app store, which enables it to cut out Google and instead sell features such as messaging and search to the highest bidder (such as to Bing, for example). This would help, in theory, to cut down on the cost of the hardware, as would the fact that Amazon could afford to sell the hardware for a lower price, knowing they could make up the cost on software and other content instead.

If the Amazon tablet is released as is suggested that it will be, and if it proves to be a success, this could inspire other manufacturers to make use of the Amazon app store. The thinking here is that Amazon has got considerable retail experience and so would be able to make the tablet and its app store more profitable than apps have proved to be for Google.

The effect of all of this would be to challenge Google’s dominance in one area of its operations, but there are a few snags that Amazon would need to work out before its proposed tablet could be a proper success. One of the biggest challenges is the fact that the Amazon app store is currently only available in the United States, and it would naturally take time for it to re-develop and alter it so that it was suitable for other regions, which often have in place considerably different regulations and policies governing such software.

Another challenge is that the Amazon app store might need to spend slightly more time on development to work out some of the issues that have previously been raised, such as the fact that some third-party developers find it frustrating: if they were going to offer a comprehensive, user-friendly app service, this would definitely need to be worked out.

So, the issue is not without its challenges and it is nowhere near a certainty that the rumoured Amazon tablet will have the impact that is hoped by some (or even that it will be released by October, as has been suggested). However, it does show burgeoning competition in a market that has gone relatively unchallenged up until now and it also shows that, no matter how well Google performs and no matter how it expands into new areas such as social networking, it is not the only player on the field.

Whatever happens, tablet computers are rapidly becoming more popular: last year, Apple sold 3,000,000 iPads in just 80 days. BlackBerry manufacturer RIM has also released its own tablet computer and more are surely on the way from elsewhere. Amazon is sure to face many challenges in its attempts to break into this market, let alone when challenging Google’s dominance of the Android market, but it just goes to prove that Google still can’t afford to ignore its competitors, however successful it becomes.

By Chelsey Evans

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Mobile App Development: What Your Business Should Know Now

Published on May 20, 2011
Tags: SEO, Web Design London, Mobile Application Development

You may have thought that wallets have always been ‘mobile’, but the concept of the mobile wallet has just reached the digital age. On 20th May 2011, the QuickTap system was launched. It’s the brainchild of Orange and Barclaycard, and the idea is that customers can pay for purchases under £15 using their mobile phone. Of course, in order to use the system, you have to have a special phone (a Samsung Tocco Lite) and be a customer of both Orange and Barclaycard. As long as you meet the criteria, however, you can make what are known as ‘contactless’ payments, which are supposed to make paying for your shopping much more efficient.

Whatever your thoughts on this development, it does raise an important issue – namely that of the growing trend for mobile internet devices. As of the end of 2010, there were an estimated 5 billion mobile phone contracts in the world (although we presume at least some of these were for phones sitting defunct in drawers and down the back of the sofa). Smartphones are now said to be outselling desktop computers and, increasingly, people are using those smartphones to access online services. Despite all this, there are still relatively few businesses that have developed specific websites for mobile devices. The tendency is still to think in terms of what we could call the ‘mainstream internet’ and not pay quite enough attention to the potentially huge mobile internet market.

Mobile marketing is something that businesses increasingly need to take note of. It’s said that in 2009 alone, mobile advertising revenues grew by 85%. With the introduction of the iPhone and increasingly sophisticated Android devices, it’s highly likely that the boom has grown even further since. So, if you run a business that is looking to develop its online strategy and make the most of popular technologies, what are some of the things you should be thinking about in terms of mobile phones?

  • Mobile websites. Somewhat obviously, mobile websites are one of the biggest issues to consider. As more people use their internet-capable smartphones to access the internet on a daily basis, it’s more important than ever before that they can access your site from their phone. After all, if they are looking to use their phone to buy some clothes online and have the choice between using a site that’s been especially designed for mobile phones and one that hasn’t, they’re more than likely to go for the tailored site. Regular websites tend not to display properly on mobile phones due to the smaller screen size, making them hard – if not impossible – to use. You can still keep the basic design of your site for the mobile version, but it would definitely be useful to talk to a specialist web designer to work out how it can be adapted.

  • Smartphone apps. You will no doubt be aware of the vast array of apps you can now get for smartphones. Arguably, Apple has cornered the market in this respect, but Android and BlackBerry also make use of mobile apps. Increasingly, businesses are designing their own apps that their customers can download and use on the go. Some of these apps are for entertainment only, while others offer services that customers might find valuable. For example, Tesco has a shopping app that allows you to do your weekly shop from your phone. You can get satnav apps to help you find your way to places and others that allow you to access services from certain businesses. There are issues to consider in terms of pricing (that is to say, whether you intend to charge for your app or not), but it is an increasingly popular option and a potentially good marketing move for businesses.

  • Social media. One of the biggest uses of mobile internet relates to social media. Lots of people access their Facebook and Twitter accounts from their phones, so this could be a good chance for businesses to develop their marketing and engage with their customers. Any business that doesn’t have social networking accounts is missing out, so this is definitely an issue worth considering more generally as well as in relation to mobile marketing.

  • Location capabilities. We wrote a couple of weeks ago about how businesses can utilise local search during the London Olympics next year. This is an important aspect of mobile internet as it offers opportunities for companies to not only strengthen their current business but also seek new business. Local search often links to social media, as it allows people to ‘check in’ to places using the social networking accounts on their phones. When they check in, they can then often receive rewards such as money off vouchers and, in return, you benefit from their business.

Overall, mobile internet services are set to become more important over the coming months and years. For now, businesses aren’t penalised too much for not making use of the capabilities, but as more and more companies do catch on and start using mobile marketing, it will become more important that others follow or else risk being left behind. With so many options and potential for good results, it certainly makes sense to make the most of this growing trend.

For a free quotation on Mobile Application Development, contact us today.

By Chelsey Evans

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