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Responsive Web Design

January 5, 2013

 

2012 seemed like a tipping point year in terms of platforms. For the first time since 2001 PC sales in 2012 have probably declined since the previous year. While some blame the economic downturn, we think that going forward desktop sales will continue sluggish as smartphones and tablets become cheaper and more powerful. People are going to start avoiding PCs, or will hold onto older hardware and fill the gaps with mobile gadgets (http://www.slashgear.com/pc-sales-to-decline-in-2012-for-the-first-time-in-11-years-10251339/).

Sales of desktop computers are starting to dive most likely, and things seem to be going more and more mobile. According to Mashable “Tablet sales are expected to exceed 100 million this year.Their sales numbers may top notebooks next year. Smartphones, of course, are also a hot commodity — according to Nielsen, the majority of U.S. mobile subscribers now own smartphones, not feature phones.” (http://mashable.com/2012/12/11/responsive-web-design/).

The following chart shows one projection of tablet sales in 2013 (http://itersnews.com/?attachment_id=15678). While it remains to be seen when Tablet sales will overtake PC sales, there is no doubt that tablets are rapidly taking increasing amounts of computing market share and will continue to do so. And with smartphones also dominating, it is becoming an increasingly mobile world.

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Organizations who have traditionally interacted with users using conventional websites are now scrambling to come up with mobile solutions. The situation has been made more complicated by the fact that native apps tend to be more responsive and appealing, but iOS and Android are both too big to ignore, and then there are still Blackberry users out there as well. Developing apps for two or possibly three mobile platforms makes the old problem of dealing with the quirks of different browsers seem positively quaint.

But now there is “Responsive Design” which promises to bring back the dream of write once and read many (i.e., create on website which can be read on any mobile platform regardless of its form factor).

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The dilemma in 2013 will be how to interact with mobile users, though a native mobile app, or through the mobile Web.

A detailed new survey of news use on mobile devices by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ) in collaboration with The Economist Group (http://www.journalism.org/analysis_report/future_mobile_news) found that about half of US adults own either a tablet or a smartphone and two/thirds of those people get news on at least one of those devices.

According to the Pew Study: “Mobile users, moreover, are not just checking headlines on their devices, although nearly all use the devices for the latest new updates. Many also are reading longer news stories – 73% of adults who consume news on their tablet read in-depth articles at least sometimes, including 19% who do so daily. Fully 61% of smartphone news consumers at least sometimes read longer stories, 11% regularly.”

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For media companies the message appears to be that good mobile websites are really important (and maybe apps too). The goal of responsive web design is to make websites that work equally well on every device.

I’m no expert on Responsive Web Design (RWD) and I expect it is not as easy as some people like to make it sound. But it certainly seems like something worth looking into. According to the Wikipedia page on RWD:

A site designed with RWD uses CSS3 media queries, an extension of the @media rule, to adapt the layout to the viewing environment—along with fluid proportion-based grids and flexible images:
• Media queries allow the page to use different CSS style rules based on characteristics of the device the site is being displayed on, most commonly the width of the browser.
• The fluid grid concept calls for page element sizing to be in relative units like percentages or EMs, rather than absolute units like pixels or points.
• Flexible images are also sized in relative units (up to 100%), so as to prevent them from displaying outside their containing element.

 
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