I had the distinct pleasure of participating in the Mobile JS Summit on August 30, 2011. This conference was entirely online (using Adobe Connect). There was a wealth of information presented over the course of the day. I will try to summarize some of the highlights. The sessions I was able to participate in (either in person or by viewing the recordings) were the following:
- The new rules of designing for touch by Josh Clark – Josh began by indicating that touch screen interfaces create ergonomic, contextual, and emotional demands on designers that are very unfamiliar to those who have only designed for desktop environments. We should start paying much more attention to how toddlers interact with touch screen devices. We should also think of buttons and other UI components as a “hack” and should instead focus on being able to interact with the data directly. For example, consider how you interact with photos taken by your smart phone camera. Is there a next or previous button? We should optimize for one hand use of a smart phone and recognize the thumb covers a large percentage of the available screen real estate. Because of this, we should think in terms of content at the top of the screen and controls at the bottom. We should also keep in mind that the minimum size of interaction area should be 44 x 44 pixels (or some multiple of that). Navigation should be at the page bottom. Josh also covered things one shouldn’t do. For example, the globe of news from ABC for the iPad. While it is a technical marvel and very impressive, it is nearly impossible to obtain useful information while using the app. He contrasted this with the Solar Walk application (also for the iPad). Similarly, why does an eBook reader need a page flip display? It is like having a fake needle on a CD player. Gestures are keyboard shortcuts of keyboard interfaces. So, what does this mean for the web? Apps are creating new expectations. It is presently difficult to handle gestures on a web page. Simple swipes are a start. Consider the Flickr app for the iPad as a beginning example. Consider apps like UZU (where up to 10 fingers can be included in gestures). New platforms and UI metaphors don’t come along very often. Play with these models and learn.
- Mobile apps and the enterprise by Jonathan Stark – Jonathan is from the Boston area and covered development of mobile apps for really large companies. These apps often require a lot of IT involvement, interface with legacy applications, and have a short shelf life. Customers need real time access to data. These apps must be scalable as there will be insanely large spikes (which occur unpredictably). They must be extensible (from a small pilot to global). Obviously, one needs a plan and metrics to measure success as the app is deployed. The app must also be secure. One often needs to rely on data adapters to stitch together disparate legacy apps residing in different departments. These apps often also have different audiences (direct customers, employees, and affiliates). Device hardware access if often the most difficult challenge. One can use tools like PhoneGap or rely on native coding (Java and Objective C). Tools like PhoneGap can be used effectively (if you understand their limitations). From a deployment perspective, one might want to consider third party app stores. For example, many corporations don’t want their internal apps published on iTunes.
- The realities of mobile design by Jenifer Hanen – There are lots of technologies and lots of approaches. It is like we are back in the mid-1990s. There are 4.3 billion mobile devices. Feature phones outnumber smart phones 4: 1. 500 million mobile phones connect to the Web. There are roughly 1,300 manufacturers of mobile devices world wide. Does one do a mobile app or a mobile website? Do what is best for the customer. When developing, consider having to use the application or web site in bright light (or with gloves), or with very small fingers. Some device constraints include: screen size, resolution, memory, speed, and browser(s) available. The line between feature phones and smart phones is blurring. When developing, consider bandwidth sipping. Bandwidth is very expensive in certain parts of the world. Give visitors a choice if appropriate. While there are downsides, consider that we are developing for a revolutionary set of new devices.
- From “It works” to “Wow, this is fast” by Simon Laurent and Daniel Pinter – Simon and Daniel covered development of their app – HTML4 and 5 Complete Reference and the numerous issues they encountered. They had to convert content from one format to HTML. They had to wire that HTML for convenient navigation in multiple modes. They had to create styles that looked familiar (for example iOS). They had to have tolerable performance. Some of the problems they had to overcome included overlapping pages and long page load times. They covered the use of tools (like JSLint) to help resolve these problems.
- Sencha Touch by David Kaneda – David focused on the fundamentals of using Sencha Touch and included several demonstrations. He stressed that Sencha Touch only supports -webkit based browsers at this time (sorry Opera). He covered the fundamentals of touch events, scrolling enhancements, components, theming, and data packaging. This was a great introduction into this framework.
- jQuery Mobile by Marc Grabanski – this was also a great review of this framework. Marc covered touch friendly inputs, layout and theming, cookies and distribution. He also showed bits of the testing lab and the numerous devices being used to test jQuery mobile. He covered how progressive enhancement is built in and how jQuery mobile is also now a part of Dreamweaver CS 5.5. In addition to showcasing a gallery of apps built on this technology, he also discussed the minified library and why it should be used.
- SproutCore by Tom Dale – this framework was covered in depth. It arose from the foundation for tools like MobileMe. The idea is to make web pages more like desktop applications. we should be thinking of the user experience, not how to develop and deploy something in a browser. He focused on bindings, computed properties and auto-updating templates and provided numerous code examples. Much of this is built on the MVC approach (Model View Controller). Much happens long before one interfaces with the DOM. It is that DOM interface which slows everything down significantly.
What impressed me most about this conference is the amount of new information I received. This is after attending the D2W conference in Kansas City in July (where I also focused on mobile). Suffice it to say the pace of change is incredible in the area of mobile and multi-screen development. I feel very fortunate to have attended this event and hope these notes are useful to readers. I also found it helpful to have individuals involved with various frameworks present their technologies and discuss them in depth (often one after the next). This allowed for a lot of useful comparisons. This is a fantastic time to be a part of design and development. It is rare that we get to watch the rules being written for a new means of communication.