Breaking Dev: Casting Off Desktop Shackles

by September 13, 2011

In his Casting Off Desktop Shackles at Breaking Development in Nashville TN, Jason Grigsby examined the opportunity mobile devices create and how our roots in desktop computing (in the US) may be holding us back. Here’s my notes from his talk:

  • The reasons why there is no mobile Web (just one Web) make sense but are we limiting ourselves? There are valid reasons to question mobile context but what’s the right answer?
  • We shouldn’t be dumbing things down for mobile or removing core functionality on smaller devices. Many people make the argument that small screens limit us to doing less.
  • Two bad redirect examples: not shifting to a mobile optimized example when one exists; redirecting people to a mobile Web site home screen instead of the content they are trying to see.
  • These problems lead many to believe separate mobile and desktop sites are evil and the methods for building them are bad as well. But 25 of 30 sites in Alexa Top 30 use device detection. In fact, on mobile people have been using user agent detection for ten years, but the desktop perspective is that user agents are bad.
  • It feels odd defending device detection when it should ideally be unnecessary. But it’s just a tool like a lot of other methods being debated right now. Let’s instead talk about how to do it well –how to do it responsibly.
  • We’re missing out on major developments that change access to device databases. WURFL recently changed its terms of use from open to commercial. It’s unclear what the implications of this are.
  • DeviceAtlas recently changed their terms as well. They now require registration up front.
  • Maybe instead we should look to different places for tacit device knowledge. Google and Facebook have a lot of device data, or maybe community efforts to fill in information.
  • Now matter how you look at it, there’s still a lot of infrastructure to build. It’s not easy to get things up and running now.

Mobile Context

  • Our vision of mobile context is often wrong. The majority of use happens at home (especially during other events like TV).
  • While we might not know exact context, that doesn’t mean mobile isn’t unique and pwerful.
  • Is mobile the 7th mass media? Print, Recordings, Cinema, Radio, TV, Internet, Mobile.
  • Mobile is a medium because it is: incredibly personal; permanently carried (90% keep within arms reach); always on (designed to be on all the time); built-in payment channel; available at the moment of creative impulse; accurate measurement (identify people based on SIM, sensors, etc.); social context (address book); augmented reality (interact with digital information in real world).
  • Mobile is the most borg-like technology we’ve ever seen. The number one manufacturer of cameras in the world in 2010 was Nokia. More cameraphones were sold in 2005 than the total number of digital cameras ever made.
  • Mobile devices consume technology. Whatever can be miniaturized and stuck on a mobile device will be. Mobile sucks up existing hardware and software businesses.
  • These unique abilities are really inspiring. What will we do with them? What are we borrowing from the previous medium—the PC Internet—that doesn’t make sense for mobile?

Mobile Only

  • We spend too much time thinking about smaller screens. Why do we even need to look at our screens? Imagine a navigation service that uses vibrations to tell you the direction to turn. This is nothing like the desktop computer experience.
  • The new digital divide is not based on access to the Internet. The barrier is now the capabilities of the device people use to access the Internet. Income may determine what device people own.
  • The Post-PC era didn’t start with the iPad or iPhone, it started in Asia and Europe years ago. Africa is closer to Asia in terms of experience with mobile devices. 20% of Kenya’s GDP is used through mobile.
  • The era of mobile dominance is beginning but it is starting in Nigeria and Kenya. Africa is the Silicon Valley of banking –there is a ton of innovation happening there.
  • Every 10 mobile devices you give to 100 people increase GDP by .5%
  • Mobile is the most transformative technology since the printing press because of its reach.
  • We’re currently fighting for parity: allowing people to have access to the same information they have on the desktop on mobile too. This isn’t nearly far enough.
  • Putting ourselves into a mobile only mindset is difficult because we spend too much time on our desktops.
  • Without “mobile only” experiences, we may be missing out on a lot of opportunities.
  • We look at mobile as a small screen version of our computers when we should be looking at mobile as so much more.
  • Don’t think just small screen. Think Big.