In web years I guess I’m old. I’ve been using, and building, the web for well over a decade now. I remember a time when getting online meant making sure that no one was using the phone or sending a fax, and when I switched from a BBS to a “graphical browser” and web pages.
The exciting challenges
In the years that I started working in this emerging web industry, it always felt we were building sand castles right on the surf line – Netscape & Internet Explorer kept vying to be top dog by introducing propriety stuff. Clients demanded their pages look the same everywhere, and print agencies (that were rapidly re-inventing themselves) were happy to oblige.
Even the slow explosion of “mobile” didn’t seem to really ruffle us. We knew the hacks, understood that we’d catch up with the technology sooner rather than later. But that word, “mobile”, is a Trojan Horse. It’s a buzzword used to get agreement for doing stuff on phones “because everyone has one nowadays”. But its bigger than that – Much bigger.
I’m running for a bus
Mobile isn’t the business man checking bus times as he hops off the train. It isn’t the mom-on-the-go updating Facebook in the checkout line. It isn’t the teen checking into Starbucks on Foursquare. It isn’t an iPhone, Kindle, or Android tablet.
What is it then? It’s the expectation to interact with anything, anywhere, anytime.
Our websites, what we currently have, aren’t ready for that. They don’t, can’t, adapt quick enough. Responsive Design is a good step forward, but its not the answer. We have to radically take a look at what we’re producing and re-shape that. Think about the Internet rather than the Web.
Fun fact - eBay claims they sell 3-4 Ferraris on their mobile app each month. Mobile app, so that’s the running business man, or the on-the-go mum right? Wrong. It’s people, richer than I, spending concentrated time researching & executing big decisions on the nearest device they have. And as adoption of apps on to devices other than smartphones starts to rise we will have less control on where they do this. The expectation is I can browse on my phone, swap to my tablet for a better view, all using my home WiFi, then send it to my work laptop/desktop for later consumption if I wanted.
My tablet is my keyboard
Consider this. Browsing, at home, on my tablet there’s images I want to see bigger. At the moment there’s a lot of pinching & zooming. What if, with a gesture, I could move it from the tablet to my TV. Use that 50″ inch HD display to show it in all its glory. When I fill in the order form for it, the tablet then becomes my keyboard. Now I pull it back from my TV onto the tablet and continue browsing. How’s our “responsive” design going to handle that?
If I were to write that 5 years ago it would’ve been pie-in-the-sky. Now, I reckon we may see it before the year’s out.
The web is suddenly becoming fractured and scary again. Its a broken internet of things, a whole slew of connected devices on which we expect to read/view/listen/post/tweet/interact with the exact same content with being barred, redirected or forced to buy an app.
We’re in a better place now. But it’s not about hacks and catching up with versions of Webkit. It’s about the “big think”, knowing the context, understanding the expectation. In other words, all the exciting stuff that made building those sandcastles on the surf line before, put a smile on your face.