Tag Archives: mobile web

Which library content providers are utilising mobile technologies?

During the course of the project, we’ve been keeping track of which library content providers are utilising mobile technologies, by speaking to suppliers at exhibitions and by checking details via their own websites and guides produced by libraries. There are a variety of different approaches, which we thought would be useful information to share.

Not all providers are supporting access to their content via mobile devices, though many are. Some are ensuring their content displays on different sizes and types of devices via mobile websites, whilst others are choosing to develop their own mobile application (see earlier blog post on mobile web vs. mobile app if you are not sure of the difference).

Authentication is a common issue for many of the providers, particularly those currently offering resources via authentication systems such as Shibboleth, Athens, or a proxy server. Though many of these work relatively seamlessly now on a desktop or laptop computer, mobile browsers do not cope well with multiple redirects and sometimes time out. Some suppliers offer full text access via mobile devices, but only when on site (via IP range), whilst others have systems for supporting off site access. This is often by creating a verification code whilst on campus and using that to log into a mobile app, which then provides access for a period of time without having to log in. Some also support full text when accessing via VPN.

There are a number different purposes for the mobile apps and websites – some aim to facilitate discovery of resources, whilst others focus on saving material for reading via mobile devices (or a combination). Apps for reading sometimes have the option to save material offline so that it can be read without an internet connection (useful when travelling).

More suppliers appear to be providing multiple options (e.g. they may have initially just had an iPhone app, but now have apps for other devices as well as a mobile website). We’ve also noticed that mobile websites are becoming more common, many of which auto detect that the site is being access via a mobile device, which is a real advantage if they are being accessed from another site (e.g. the library’s website/search tool) rather than via the suppliers website.

What’s best for users though? Many librarians feel that numerous apps are not much use to the average library user – they want access to the content and may not be aware which supplier it comes via. Often subject interests will spread across different suppliers too, so having to search on a number of different mobile apps would be a long process (something that discovery services have tried to prevent) and having things stored in multiple places could be frustrating. For specialist researchers, apps focused on their area may be useful, but the most library users it’s likely that mobile friendly websites will be of more use, particularly if the library has a search tool to search for content across different providers.

Rather than replicate information already out there, we have added our findings to the list of providers on the m-libraries section of the Library Success wiki. Here’s a preview – for the full up-to-date version click on the image to open the section on the wiki.

M-libraries wiki screenshot

M-libraries wiki screenshot

We hope you find this information useful in your own library in supporting your users. If you know any further information about mobile options from suppliers, please let us know or you can register an account on the Library Success wiki and edit it directly.

Mlibs event – Building mobile-friendly sites with responsive design

This is part of a series of blog posts based on the sessions held at the Mobile technologies in libraries: information sharing event. More resources from the day are available at the event Lanyrd page.

Matt Machell (Capita) gave a presentation during the morning breakout sessions focused on building mobile-friendly sites with responsive design. The notes below have been contributed by Ben Showers who attended Matt’s session.

Matt Machell

Matt Machell

Matt made it clear that the aim of this session was for us to question our assumptions about what mobile means.

The session began with some group activities exploring the uses we put our phones to, and which are the main tools we utilise on our phones. The top uses for phones were:

  • Maps and travel apps (trains, buses)
  • Communication and social media (Email, IM, twitter, facebook)
  • Camera
  • Music (spotify, radio)

Matt’s exercise made it clear that our phones need to be reconceived as small computers rather than a phone; indeed, no one mentioned the making calls on their phone the whole session.

What is responsive design?

Once Matt had made us deconstruct our mobile phone usage, he outlined what he meant by responsive design.

Rather than building for different devices (tablet, phone, laptop etc), fragmenting content across different apps, responsive design allows you to produce a single website that scales according to the device that’s accessing it.

Responsive design provides a solution to the proliferation of different devices that’s also manageable. It means you don’t have to second guess the devices people will be using.  Its fluidity means it will adapt to any device that’s being used.

Matt did, however, make it clear that there would be compromises as content will be reconfigured and lost/formatted for the different resolutions. The nature of navigation on the site will change for different devices.

The key is that is fluid and flexible, and adapts to different devices.

Matt’s presentation is available on Slideshare: http://www.slideshare.net/Shuckle/web-app-and-responsive-design-for-libraries

Native mobile app vs mobile web

A common topic that seems to be mentioned during discussions on mobile is whether a native mobile app or mobile web is most appropriate.

What’s the difference?

A native app is an application that is downloaded to a mobile device, can make use of the devices hardware such as the camera and geolocation, and often enables information to be stored offline. Mobile web is accessed via the browser and requires an internet connection; it can use some of the hardware though native apps can do this more easily. Access to a native app requires the user to have visited an app store and downloaded the app (this could be free or paid for), whilst mobile web is accessed via your mobile browser; often the website will detect if you are using a mobile device and display the mobile web version if so.

The screenshots below demonstrate the difference using the BBC News as an example:

BBC News - mobile app (left) and mobile web (right)

BBC News - mobile app (left) and mobile web (right)

Which is more suitable?

The suitability of a native app or mobile web depends on the desired purpose and how users will be expected to interact with the service. Research by Yahoo! grouped typical activities on mobile devices into categories and examined user preferences for each activity:

Mobile app vs. mobile browser

Mobile app vs. mobile browser

This sort of information can be useful when considering whether app or browser is most appropriate to invest in – if you were developing a communication service it seems an app would be preferable, but if you were selling items to consumers, browser seems to be preferable. Of course, this is only broad guidance and user research into your community is recommended good practice.

Are there any other options?

To add an extra option to the mix, there are also hybrid apps which are a bridge between the native apps and mobile web. These are developed in a similar way to mobile web (so are compatible with a number of mobile platforms) but can also utilise the phone’s hardware (camera, contacts etc.) and be downloaded as an app.

The table below gives an overview of the main features of native, hybrid and web:

Advantages and disadvantages of native, hybrid and web apps

Advantages and disadvantages of native, hybrid and web apps

What should libraries be doing?

Well, it depends. There are examples of libraries using native mobile apps (either developing their own or purchasing commercial options) and examples of libraries using mobile web. Each of the following factors (and no doubt more) will need to be considered to assist in your decision about the most appropriate choice for your library:

  • Functionality required (hardware needed? offline access needed?)
  • Planned user interaction and activity
  • User preferences and devices
  • Budget for development
  • Technical knowledge (different programming languages for different types of app)
  • Timescale (app store approval process can be lengthy)

Recommended resources:

Yahoo! Mobile Modes Whitepaper

The fight gets technical: mobile apps vs. mobile sites

Mobile Web App vs. Native App? It’s Complicated

Mobile web vs apps: what’s right for your user? (from CILIP Multimedia Information & Technology newsletter)

HTML5, Hybrid or Native Mobile App Development Webinar