I was invited to present at CILIP’s Mobile Technology Executive Briefing on July 19th, and really enjoyed listening to the other presentations. There was a variety of presentations on a number of different themes:
Rather than go over what each presentation covered, I thought I’d pick up on a few themes which emerged throughout the day.
Mobile app vs. mobile web
This seems to be an ongoing debate and one many people want a quick answer to. Sadly it’s not that straight forward; as with anything it depends in the context (I wrote a blog post about the differences between mobile apps and mobile web which included their advantages and disadvantages). General consensus about which is preferable seems to be shifting slightly as we see the introduction of more smartphones on different operating systems, driving a need for cross-compatible mobile websites rather than native apps. In order to utilise all the functionality of the phone’s hardware though (e.g. using the camera, storing data offline), an app is the way to go. For library resources from publishers, we’re definitely seeing a change to people requesting mobile compatible websites rather than mobile apps, largely because users of the library are encouraged to access resources from a variety of publishers and may not know the publishers who cover their research areas (and often don’t need to know). We’ve been doing some research into the mobile options publishers offer, which we’ll be sharing on the blog soon.
Responsive web design
One potential solution to designing for the mobile web is responsive web design which enables web developers to develop one website which will detect the device and size it is being displayed on and alter its appearance accordingly – see responsive web design demo. This is becoming more popular with major website providers, and a number of libraries are beginning to use this approach. Matthew Reidsma gave a presentation on the topic of responsive web design at the ALA Annual Conference 2012 which you can view online (blog post includes video, slides and other resources). This approach to web design ties in with the findings of Bohyun Kim in her ALA Annual Conference presentation also; that users now expect to use their mobile devices in a similar way to a desktop and therefore expect mobile websites to have the same information as a desktop site. Responsive web design can be a time-consuming process (particularly for large websites with a lot of content) so some feel it is not the right approach to take at present, though I have to say I think it is a useful exercise and believe we should be aiming to offer the same amount of information regardless of the device.
Planning for the future
Many of the people at the event were keen to pick the speaker’s brains about how to plan for the future. The message from James Clay’s presentation was very clear; libraries should be planning for the future now, rather than focusing on the present. But what do we need to plan for? It’s difficult to predict what we’ll be using in the future, especially in an area of such rapid growth. The main priority here is the need to keep up-to-date with the latest developments and consider their implications for libraries. In addition to keeping on top of innovations in technology (by subscribing to technology news feeds and blogs), we also need to consider adoption of the technologies within society and potential trends which may affect the ways users wish to use libraries in future (e.g. changing expectations of mobile websites).
Reliance on providers
Martin White focused his presentation on the offerings of providers (in particular Apple, Google and Microsoft) and it was something mentioned in a number of the presentations. The decisions made by companies like these will impact which technologies are adopted and supported. For example, technologies such as near field communication will become more widespread if more devices include the technology, or QR code use could increase if a QR code reader was a standard part of a mobile devices’ camera rather than a separate app. We need to keep an eye on the technologies used by main technology companies, and also the smaller companies with innovative devices.
Knowing what users want
As with anything, the underpinning message when considering using mobile technology to support library resources and services is understanding what users want. I was particularly interested to hear from George Buchanan about the feedback they got from students about the way they used mobile devices, and the fact that it was still largely for traditional activities such as calls and texts (though this was a small sample of students). Related to this, a number of projects in the JISC Mobile Infrastructure for Libraries programme have been involved in usability testing and gathering user feedback. See the following blog posts for further information – Usability testing from MACON at Open University and Phone Booth now and into the future from PhoneBooth at LSE. I’m sure others will blog their findings at a later date too.
So what do we do?
In conclusion, I think the main recommendations to take from the presentations and discussions from the CILIP Mobile Technologies Executive Briefing are as follows:
- Keep an eye on new developments in terms of mobile devices launches and technologies adopted by mainstream society
- Consider how we can utilise existing and cutting edge mobile technologies in our own library environments
- Keep ongoing data about the way our users are utilising mobile technologies (e.g. analytics, user surveys, focus groups, observation)
- Plan for the future by keeping mobile technologies at the forefront of new developments and regularly performing horizon scans
If you’re interested in finding out more about the event, you may want to look at the archive of #mobiletech2012 tweets.