Saturday, April 23, 2016

Could apps encourage better desktop software?

The smartphone revolution it has made unthinkable for a company to make a website without having an app to go with it. In fact, some of the most popular websites today started as apps first and then later became websites!

This has given rise to a design philosophy called Mobile First. The idea here is that instead of starting with a full-featured, resource hogging desktop application or website you start by building your app in the smallest form-factor you want to support, like, for example, a smartphone. From there you should adapt the design to the larger form-factors and available resources. 
Experts say that this encourages the creation of full-featured apps and websites, instead of full-featured websites and watered down mobile experiences. With 19% of users using a smartphone as their primary computing device in the US alone, this philosophy makes a lot more sense, even if once in a while it comes up with slightly subpar websites.

Personally, I’m not a big fan of this approach from a user experience standpoint. I’ve witnessed the mobilization of websites with the worst offender being Google themselves. In an effort to bring the web experience in line with the mobile experience they seem to forget that people use a mouse and keyboard on desktop, not their fingers.

Not to mention what an accessibility nightmare these websites must be. I’m looking at you, Google Drive and Google Plus.

In all fairness though, I’ve also seen these websites becoming faster, more optimized and I think this has to do with the mobile first approach I just mentioned. When you are building something for a mobile phone you have to make sure it works well on underpowered devices which in turn means that overpowered devices will work wonderfully.

In the years before mobile we saw the bloating of desktop. Browsers taking more and more memory, games being built to take advantage of top of the line hardware without a care for mid and low range hardware. Operating systems doing the same.

But now that mobile is THE platform to be on, even the desktop is benefitting from leaner yet still fully featured websites and applications. The most recognizable example is probably Windows 10, which on some hardware runs even better than Windows 7.

Like I said before, Mobile First is not my favorite approach but I can’t deny that this seems to be a tangential but very beneficial consequence of it.