The rise in the popularity of mobile Internet is one of the most important current trends. Many organisations are therefore looking for the best way to make use of this new channel in their online communication matrix. Mobile websites and applications can be integrated within traditional CMS platforms to various degrees, and the best solution is highly dependent on the project's specific content.
Mobile accessibility of existing website
A basic requirement of every modern CMS project is ensuring that the ‘regular’ website is accessible and easy to use on the most popular mobile devices. For a considerable number of websites the share of mobile users can be as high as 10% of the total number of visits, and this percentage will continue to grow in the future.
Separate mobile website and responsive design
A separate mobile website consists of an extra set of templates that provide some or all of the content and functionalities provided by the existing Drupal CMS with a specific presentation that is optimised for modern smartphones. During the design phase, we work with the customer to determine the ideal mix of content and services that users in a mobile environment find useful. After all, not all content is suitable for mobile access. By tying the mobile templates to the same Drupal database, no additional editorial management is required to maintain the mobile site.
Our colleagues at dotProjects have recently completed a number of mobile websites. Check out a few examples here (Dutch only).
In addition to a specific template to shape the way mobile users experience a site, a ‘responsive’ approach can also be implemented. This enables the template to adapt to the visitor's screen dimensions by adjusting the size of images, the layout and the position of content and navigation elements.
Mobile web apps
Mobile sites, an often-used solution for content-rich sites, are developed in HTML and therefore are virtually unable to utilise the extra features that modern smartphones offer.
Web apps based on HTML5 go further. They can make use of additional functionalities like saving data in the phone itself, accessing GPS location data and using advanced touch controls, such as ‘swiping’. This makes it possible to create an ‘application feel’ without the need to develop a separate app for each platform. After all, the data and the screen remain under the control of Drupal, via the HTML5 code.
A recent example is the mobile web app for finding parking areas along motorways in Flanders, developed by dotProjects in the spring of 2012 for the Flemish government. The application is capable of temporarily storing data in the phone (e.g. when there is no data connection) and consists of ‘screens’, instead of pages, with a layout based on the familiar user interface we expect from a modern smartphone. The employed techniques ensure that no extra load time is required for navigating through the various pages.
Mobile (native) applications
Mobile apps, distributed via the app store or marketplace for the specific mobile platform, are the best known mobile channels. It is clear, however, that there are many types of websites that do not have a corresponding mobile app which must be downloaded and installed via an online store. An app can be the most suitable solution when the focus is less on content and more on functionality, which is particularly handy in the mobile context.
A good example is the iPhone app for bPost that dotProjects developed in 2011. This app allows the user to look up information such as the location of post boxes and post offices based on the user's location. By providing the data via web services, the iPhone app can retrieve and make use of data from a back-end system, or from Drupal.