In 2011 over 100 million smartphones were sold worldwide. With their new ability to install programs (apps) many website owners are seeing the huge benefit of having an app. Film database website IMDb this year achieved 21 million app installs and has proven to been an excellent portal for accessing their online database. But developing and maintaining a smartphone app is costly and time consuming. Luckily, with the emergence of some nifty new technologies, many websites can be transformed into web apps.
A great example of a mobile web app is Google Images. The regular Google Images interface is perfectly usable on a desktop or laptop computer, but using a finger to navigate on a screen of only a few inches can be tricky. Instead of letting the user battle through the site Google has made a few tweaks.
- The interface is simplified and concise
- Text is a readable size
- Links and buttons are big enough to tap
Google has also made full use of the swipe sensors, now available in HTML5. As you’d browse the photos on your phone by swiping the screen, you’re able to use exactly the same gesture to load new images on Google. As well as being mobile-friendly, loading the images dynamically, that is without reloading the screen, the browser doesn’t need to download the whole page again, increasing the speed of browsing significantly – perfect when using a 3G internet connection.
Google Images isn’t perfect though. By looking at the device the user is using (iPhone, Nexus One, iPad) different page layouts, images and text are offered to the user. This has the downside of needing to catalogue and test each device. With CSS3 we’re able to create styling rules based on the device’s screen resolution, opposed to the specific device used. A layout that changes with the screen size will work on all devices and even make a website future-proof for devices to come.
Combined with the ability of Android and iPhone to create an app-stle button on the device’s homescreen a web app is the perfect substitute for a regular app. And with more and more smartphones being sold and them being used to surf the web the user is coming to expect websites to offer a more app-based web experience.