Why Mobile First Design is Important? Its Approach and Limitations

Last Updated on by Vairo Kremanis

Mobile first design

Why Choose Mobile First Designing?

With the advent of cellular technology, mobile phones have become an integral part of everyday life. Ranging from searching information to buying and selling products and services online and entertainment, they offer portability and functionality at fingertips, due to which their usage is widespread.

Most developers tend to create applications that are desktop oriented, after which they streamline functionality and features for the mobile versions. Even with the introduction of responsive design, many developers favor this approach.

But with the continuous rise of mobile users, it has become necessary to develop applications which are mobile friendly since they are accessed more frequently from such platforms. The new trend in the market is to develop a mobile friendly version first and then develop for other platforms.

Why Prioritize Mobile Development?

The fact that almost everyone owns a smartphone is a clear indicator that we require their usage in our everyday life. Moreover, the internet is not just limited to desktop anymore; it has migrated to mobile and tablet platforms and catering to these users is essential for any business plan.

While there may be 25 percent users who solely access internet through mobile, there are 75 percent who do not. The question arises, why should development be prioritized for mobile platforms? There are clear indications that search engine giant Google is focusing on mobile development and to offer solutions based on catering to mobiles first. Multinational businesses such as Amazon and eBay also cater to a major percentage of users accessing site via mobiles, so optimizing for mobiles is a smart decision for both enhanced customer experience and long term planning.

Graceful Degradation or Progressive Enhancement?

Two of the key development techniques concerning mobile platforms are graceful degradation and progressive enhancement. While their objective is to develop for mobile and other platforms, the approaches themselves are unique in nature.

Graceful degradation relies on development for high end platforms such as desktops and laptops first. After a stable product has been created, certain features and functionalities are cut down due to hardware and software constraints and a streamlined, mobile friendly version is generated from the original software. For example, certain features of an application will be removed if they are too heavy for mobile processing and screen size will be reduced due to smaller displays.

Progressive enhancement is a relatively new technique which is catching on fast, since mobile users are increasing and so is the emphasis on growth in this sector. The product is initially designed for mobile platforms and a version is created which caters for the niche, after which more content and features are added for an advanced version for machines with lesser constraints.

Why Progressive Enhancement Wins

Although both approaches have the same objectives of developing for mobile and other hardware, the end result differs for them. In case development is initiated from mobile, then there are almost no hardware and software constraints, since the processing power, graphics, feature integration, display size and other functionalities can be easily upsized. Once the owner is ready to go the extra mile and make the design compatible for other platforms and devices, you will already have incredible functionality, a great user interface and stable features in hand waiting to be integrated. On the contrary, scaling it down for mobile phones is a challenging task and results in loss of critical functions and instability.

Progressive enhancement on the other hand is a mobile development oriented approach in which the project is created while keeping in mind hardware and software constraints of the platform. The end product is efficient since constraints were already in mind, offers core functionalities for a minimalist approach and is suited for smartphones. Moreover, it is easier to remove the constraints and build the application up rather than implement constraints during later stages of software development life cycle. This permits easy modification and upgrading of product for machines with lesser constraints.

Future of Mobile Web Designing

Developing mobile friendly solutions is not just a trend anymore, it is a development technique. Following are some facts that prove mobile web development is an area worth focusing on.

  • Over 2 billion mobile phone users internationally.
  • Mobile web is available on approximately 85 percent mobile devices being retailed.
  • 9 billion downloads for mobile applications.
  • Majority of user’s access websites using only mobile platforms. This means some sites will only be visited in their mobile friendly version.

Over the course of time, both the number of users and development in mobile platforms will increase, which necessitates adaptation with technological developments.

Responsive Web Design

Responsive web design and progressive enhancement work synchronously since they both rely on optimization for smartphones. Responsive web design is based on viewport size of the user (webpage area which can be viewed) and by coding the CSS for mobile platforms and utilizing media queries to load more content and functions as per the viewport, the functionality of the software can be adjusted for mobile constraints.

Although most approaches dictate a top down approach in which bigger features are adjusted first, it seems practical for adjusting smaller features and content while keeping in mind viewport size and mobile constraints. This way, users with bigger displays can view more content while those with smaller ones are not affected by congested data.

Limitations of Mobile First Designing

While mobile first designing offers significantly better user experience and functionality for mobile platforms, it does have its limitations. From the start, there are constraints which cannot be overruled otherwise the program loses quality or becomes unstable.  Although responsive design may require a greater level of skill, it provides adaptability based on viewport, which is suitable for containing data.

It might be easier to remove constraints in the later stages of development for upgrading, but building a mobile first software requires certain features to be changed so they are suitable for other platforms. This can at times become time consuming and requires skill for the software to migrate to other platforms.

Is Mobile First Worth It?

While the mobile first may have its limitations, it offers advantages which are too good to pass up. Developing a software under constraints may present issues but the end product can be upgraded and engineered according to specifications. On the other hand, without implementing the approach, optimizing the software for mobile platforms presents a host of issues. While progressive enhancement and responsive web designing require skill for their implementation, they offer a product which is stable and functional with great usability and can be modified according to changing requirements.

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