Mobile / Responsive – Some Thoughts

I’ve just answered an email asking about responsive themes, and I thought it would be a good idea to post my answer here too.  I was asked if any of my themes were responsive, and this is my reply.

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No they aren’t I’m afraid.  It’s a difficult thing to do and it’s often an unsatisfying result I find.

If you look at how YouTube have approached it recently, it’s ticked off a lot of people including my eldest son and his friends, who have had custom page templates designed in the past that were meant for a desktop based web browser rather than mobile.

What I’d like to see is a dual hit method where a theme presented the regular desktop appearance when viewed with a desktop browser, and something much simpler when viewed with a mobile device.  And there’s another problem, because what resolution do you define as mobile?  Cell phones – yes.  Tablets – hmm, maybe, oh okay yes then.  But what size tablet would you serve the mobile view?  My Kindle Fire HD is a 7 inch device but has a resolution of 1280×800.

Viewing “normal” web browser page is a little difficult because it’s only a 7 inch display, and a mobile view of sites would suit it better.  In contrast the monitor sitting next to me is a 19 inch device with a resolution only a little better than my Kindle at 1360×768, but viewing a mobile page on it would just be silly.  ;-)

And…  Cell phones will soon have (if they haven’t already) very high resolution displays but still tiny screens to show content.  What view do you serve them? Or do you just serve the same content to all devices and let the device sort it out?

That doesn’t work because of the resolution issue I discussed above.

*sigh*

I guess that eventually someone (it might be me) will come up with a clever (and simple!) solution, but it seems for now that we’re either stuck with normal desktop browser views, or responsive where everything moves around to occupy a different layout depending on the resolution of the device.  Neither is a very good answer.

It seems the only way to do it to make everyone happy is to have a number of different page views depending on device rather than on screen resolution.  You can sort of guess this by browser and OS, but sometimes it’s going to be wrong.

If you go to Starbucks.com on your desktop browser and then gradually narrow the browser you’ll see how the site adjusts, stacking images underneath each other.  That’s okay, but their site has had to be designed VERY simplistically and blockish for this to work.

Hands in air, right now I don’t know how to approach this but I guess at some point with some thought I’ll come up with something.

-Frank Haywood



15 Comments

  1. Terry Jett says:

    Hey Frank.

    On vacation but just had to pop in and share some info.

    This is a very interesting article that everyone should at least read:

    http://www.internetretailer.com/2013/06/13/google-cracks-down-mobile-laggards

    I say responsive is here to stay and as screens become larger and large may be the way to go for larger businesses selling online.

    Juz my two cents but, have been told my two cents is worthless to priceless, lol.

    Terry

    • Frank Haywood says:

      Hi Terry,

      Yeah that’s just the kind of thing I was looking for. :-)

      Essentially that article says Google is going to kick our asses in search for “bad” mobile sites, and that they advise either not building mobile sites at all, or going responsive. (Interestingly, as I said in the post, that’s exactly what YouTube have just done and made everyone go responsive.)

      What Google are always going on and on about is that a web sites should supply a good user experience (they could take notice of that themselves) and if people are searching for something then supply it rather than redirect them to the wrong place. Common sense really.

      My thinking *today* is it’s better if people don’t build mobile sites because I have a *feeling* it’s going to be a waste of time because of the resolution issue. Like I say I can go to sites like Starbucks on my Kindle and I get the same display as I’d see on my desktop, but I’d probably be happier with the mobile version.

      It’s all compromises, and I can’t help but think there must be a better solution.

      We’re collectively clever I think we can come up with something between us all. ;-)

      -Frank

      • Terry Jett says:

        Yes sir, I follow and agree.

        The only thing to keep in mind is the fact smaller businesses that do not sell online still can benefit from having a mobile site.

        Perfect example would be the plumber client I picked up last week. They do not sell products online but need a way to mobile users to call them and read little about their services. These types of businesses need a mobile site, especially if they are happy with their current non-responsive design/site.

        Another example is heating/ac companies and many more. Mobile sites are here to stay but they are not a “fit all”.

        Terry

        • Frank Haywood says:

          Hi Terry,

          That is a brilliant example and one that I hadn’t thought of. Businesses that only (or mainly) need a mobile site. Tch, I’m getting old. :roll:

          -Frank

  2. Geoff Lord says:

    Hi Frank, One of my clients is a group of hospitals in France and I have been getting more and more frustrated with this problem of views and compatabilty issues. I have to spend hours testing any new content for my sites on several browsers ( IE (several versions), FF, Chrome, and Opera) , then I have to do the same process on 7″ tablets, 10″ tablets and finally on 3 different Smart Phones before I actually publish a page. Obviously most people would not even consider going thro this process. However, I can only speak from my own experience, but after many attempts to overcome some of the the problems of Browser issues and redirects I tested literally hundreds of WP themes to find one that would solve some of these issues. I eventually found one which does satisfies “most” of these issues. To further compound my problems the Google “penguin 1″updates last year decimated one our main sites, so i decided to build a completely new website using the theme. The Niche is also one of the most competative Keyword sets for our Group with many Major Worldwide Players as competitors. After only 6 weeks from Launch the new site now out ranks my competitors and appears on page one of google searches for several Keyords, (I do apply several other SEO tactics). I must say that my timing was perfect as the site launch co-incided with the latest Google “penguin 2″ update. However this does in my view demonstrate that Google are in fact ranking cross compatable sites higher than sites which are not truly cross compliant. So If you were sitting on the fence on this issue all I can say is “Climb Over the Hurdle” and get your design team to produce a Theme which works, NOW !!!

    Geoff Lord

    • Frank Haywood says:

      Hi Geoff,

      That’s really interesting data. I wonder how Google detects a responsive site/theme? I don’t think that’s a dumb question, but I’m willing and happy to be corrected. ;-)

      If we know how, then we can make sure Google sees our sites as responsive rather than otherwise.

      -Frank

      • geoff lord says:

        That is a very good question Frank. I dont really Know how Google detect a fully responsive site either. All I know is that I assume because I spent a great deal of time and effort checking and viewing my edits in various browsers as i built out the site that google’s latest algorithm detects certain parameters of the code. I assume that you have viewed my site from my “name Link” and checked it out on various browsers. if you want a personal chat contact me via the mail link.

        • Frank Haywood says:

          Hi Geoff,

          As I said to Ron I had a (long) chat with Mandy Taylor yesterday and she reckons Google do it by checking maxwidth values in the HTML. I *think* that’s what she said, we talked about a lot of things. :roll:

          I flippantly said that if that’s the case a black hatter could write a plugin that spoofed a responsive page by adding that HTML to a page even though it may not be used. So they would get the SEO benefits of being a responsive page without actually being one.

          I’d never do such a thing, but I’m sure that there must be someone out there who has already clocked it and done it.

          I will check out your site tomorrow when it’s quieter here. :-)

          -Frank

  3. Kevin G says:

    I think the ideal solution would be for browsers to start incorporating an additional identifier in their page requests that specifies its preferred format as being either mobile or standard, just as they currently send the browser name and version.

    The preferred format setting could be changed by the user in the browser settings – even bring this option to the user’s attention when the browser is run for the very first time. That way, the user can choose what suits them best.

    That certainly would be better than trying to guess which format to serve up, and forcing the user to view it in the format that the site chooses.

    Kevin

    • Frank Haywood says:

      Hi Kevin,

      Yep I agree. It needs something, maybe even a cookie from a central site but then that will fall foul of browser settings so it really needs to be a new identifier within the browser as you say.

      You can take some good guesses such as if the browser identifies itself as Silk you know it’s a Kindle, but even then you don’t know what the viewer prefers. We need that ID in browsers with the user preferences for pages.

      -Frank

  4. Pol vanRhee says:

    I deal with this daily, since we provide mobile and responsive sites both. There are advantages and disadvantages to both and it really depends on the situation. Like Terry said, there are many businesses that all they need is a mini mobile site, perhaps a mobile map and a tap to call. That by the way is what 80% of mobile users look for when they search on their phones – Directions and Contact number.

    And yet too many mobile redirect scripts have trouble distinguishing between tablets and phones. And they definitely are different in what they need to bring up. We usually suggest a compromise where a mobile site still has access to desktop site.

    But the ease of a responsive site (in keeping up one set of information, instead of two sites) is appealing to many. They are willing to spend a little time to organize the site so certain parts fall way below in a mobile phone. It is hard to program a Tap To Call button to only show when the screen is narrowed and a phone number to show when it isn’t. That’s the key to have a responsive site that not only shifts “boxes” around, but adjusts those boxes to show similar information in different ways. I rarely use gps for driving directions on my desktop, but I use it all the time on my phone.

    If there are links to social media sites, I want them to go to the mobile versions of those sites when I am on the phone, but not when I am on my tablet or desktop. It loads slower, it doesn’t have the same info.

    This definitely is an issue (that I hope you come up with a great answer to) and it requires a lot of thought on how people use each device for each situation. It’s definitely not one size fits all.

    Pol

    • Frank Haywood says:

      Hi Pol,

      That’s another great piece of data to bear in mind thank you. This is just the kind of thing I was looking for when I made this post.

      Mandy Taylor has some thoughts on all of this and I hope she can find time to leave them here.

      -Frank

  5. Shelby says:

    Frank,

    I don’t get the problem you have with responsive websites. They may not be perfect but they can be catered pretty well to devices. Many WordPress themes are responsive and seem to work great on my mobile devices. Iphone 5′s have a huge resolution at 1136-by-640-pixels, combine that with high dpi and proper font styling and you’ve got a recipe for success.

    That said there could always be a better way, I just don’t think it’s that big of deal to use responsive themes.

    -Shelby

    • Frank Haywood says:

      Hi Shelby,

      I haven’t got a *big* problem with responsive, I just think there must be a better way. I don’t know what it is yet, but discussion like this will get us a step closer. As Pol sort of said (and I definitely *did* say), you can’t really tell what people want to see just based on the resolution. So in your 1136×640 example where a cell phone user may want to see a tap-to-call button, they instead see the phone number.

      Somewhere in all this, there’s a good answer.

      -Frank

  6. Terry Jett says:

    Lots of very good discussion here.

    Not to muck the water with TMI (too much info), but this is an excellent article with info that may interest you all:

    http://mobile.smashingmagazine.com/2013/05/29/the-state-of-responsive-web-design/

    Very long and suggest a fresh refill of your fav beverage before sitting down to read:)

    Terry

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