Have We Hit the Era of Peak Apps? Rethinking the Mobile First Imperative with HTML5 and Responsive Design

By Cheryl McKinnon posted 05-13-2012 09:45


Last week I had the opportunity to participate in CMSExpo – a conference that brings together web developers, designers, content strategists and project managers. These information professionals represented organizations ranging from huge US Federal agencies to small boutique consulting shops and a range of universities, non-profits, regulated industries in between.


I moderated a panel discussion on the unique challenges of non-profits when deploying a web CMS, as well as presenting on the topic of open standards as a driver for business. The “Open Standards and Open Source Mean Open for Business” slides are now available on SlideShare.


The key takeaway for me as an information professional after attending a few sessions? To rethink the app-centric assumptions of the “mobile first” mindset.


Apps are no longer a silver bullet for publishers and news sites. I heard this theme a couple of times in sessions at CMSExpo, and this thinking is very timely. A May 7 article at GigaOm summarizes the problems with an app-only approach to mobile quite succinctly. The closed and closely controlled systems offered by popular phone/tablet manufacturers are now revealing not only technical limitations and lock-in, but often result in substantial royalties or commissions paid back to the application download site. This is proving to be burdensome for publishers and media organizations already struggling to recognize revenue for their content.


HTML5 is offering an alternative to publishers who want to take control of their mobile strategy, reduce dependence on proprietary hardware systems and keep more of the revenue for themselves. This new version of HTML is much better suited to handle the rich media requirements of content publishers, without incurring a technical or financial dependence on providers such as Apple. New elements and APIs specific to handling audio and video better aligns to the “engagement” goals we have with our web and mobile strategies today.


A new term learned this week? “Responsive Design”. Responsive design is an approach to creating web and mobile channels that can self-tune content delivery and experience based on factors such as device, screen size, or location. Examples of web sites, including news and media publications, using responsive design approach can be found here:


I was pleased to get some great recommendations from CMSExpo attendees on how to learn more about this intriguing concept. One of the top proponents of Responsive Design, Ethan Marcotte, acknowledges inspiration for this approach to content delivery from the “responsive architecture” discipline, used to design buildings and physical spaces that can adapt as people pass through them. In the context of building an online space, Marcotte recommends similar thinking: “rather than creating immutable, unchanging spaces that define a particular experience, they suggest inhabitant and structure can—and should—mutually influence each other.”


Marcotte continues: “Rather than tailoring disconnected designs to each of an ever-increasing number of web devices, we can treat them as facets of the same experience. We can design for an optimal viewing experience, but embed standards-based technologies into our designs to make them not only more flexible, but more adaptive to the media that renders them”.


For those of us who have spent more time on the ECM side of the house, and are relatively new to web CMS, these concepts are not necessarily unique. Functional security, user dashboards, personal portals or home pages have existed for years to help information workers get their key content faster and with fewer clicks or queries. But how many people actually used them?


What we have now is an opportunity to look at the trade-off between personalization (and the understanding that many users won't be bothered to set preferences or tailor their home page on the intranet or ECM system), and responsiveness (letting the system assume a user's priorities and interests based on location, device and screen size). Perhaps a new approach to taking the burden off of end users, and putting it back in the hands of application designers and developers can help us achieve the goal of improved productivity as we digitize and mobilize our business processes. Open Standards give us this flexibility.

#ResponsiveDesign #WCM #OpenStandards #HTML5 #CMS #mobile
1 comment



05-13-2014 12:54

Great post. I for one never have been a fan of mobile "apps" for the mobile web. When I was developing and providing services on my own web CMS years before HTML5, I designed with mobile and PC both in mind and was able to dynamically optimize and deliver client web pages to mobile devices without the need for a clunky app. At that time XHTML 1.0 was the Web Standard for markup. HTML5 adds some better tools for semantic markup, but the principle is the same: separate your content and structure (semantic HTML) from your design (CSS) and behavior (unobtrusive JavaScript). Then you can apply Responsive Design and Progressive Enhancement concepts and have truly portable content that is more accessible, usable, and manageable.