The Mobile Case for Progressive Enhancement
There’s a mentality that in order to do create functional experiences in the browser, especially for mobile, you need to use some hardcore JS framework, rewrite the scrolling logic, add a bunch of interstitial animations, create overlays and add swipes. I have nothing against frameworks or these techniques, but for whatever reason people think they’re a prerequisite for creating mobile web experiences. They’re not.
One of my favorite mobile sites is Target (great job Matt Menzer). The beauty of this experience isn’t in the mind-blowing animations, it’s about the clarity of the content, the speed in which the page loads and the accessibility of the experience.
Contrast Target’s mobile experience with Paper.li’s mobile experience. In case you’re not familiar with Paper.li it aggregates links from social sites and creates a digest. The focus should be on the content, but instead the focus rests on a very complex system of loaders, scrollers, fixed position elements and native-feeling UI elements. Note: it may not seem bad on a desktop or iPhone 4s, but try firing it up on an Android, Windows Phone, or Blackberry. Another note: this was made with Sencha Touch, which again I have nothing against (quite the opposite), I just feel it’s better suited for hybrid apps that aren’t deployed over the web.
The difference between Target’s and Paper.li’s sites is that one is working with the constraints of the medium and using those constraints to it’s advantage, while the other is introducing unnecessary dependencies on what’s essentially a list of links and limiting the site’s accessibility as a result.
The fact is that as we head into this new era of diversity, all bets are off. We’re going to have to create experiences for extraordinarily capable devices as well as low-powered, inexpensive, good-enough devices. Screw them you say? Take a look at how the Kindle Fire is selling. Look at the Nook Color. Look at what phones Metro PC and Cricket are pushing in full-swing this holiday season:
These ads are all over the NYC subway system and as far as I’ve seen more prominent than ads touting high-end smartphones. These devices might be Androids and Blackberries, but they sure as hell aren’t the Nexus S or iPhone 4s. The Zombie Apocalypse of low-powered, inexpensive, good-enough devices is here, my friends, and it’s up to us to readjust our assumptions.
(Note: this was originally posted on Google+, but in an effort to regain control over my content I’m trying to bring it all in house.)