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What are the characteristics of mobile apps and mobile-optimised websites?

The next M-Tech group meeting will be taking place on Thursday 22nd July, from 14:00 to 16:00 in...

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Keren Mills
6 July 2010

The next M-Tech group meeting will be taking place on Thursday 22nd July, from 14:00 to 16:00 in Digilab, OU Library (ground floor).
What are the characteristics of mobile apps and mobile-optimised websites?
As Smartphone ownership and mobile internet browsing increase, we are likely to see growing expectation that Open University websites of all types - teaching, marketing, Student Services, etc. - will be accessible on mobile devices. Come along and join in a discussion to determine the differences and similarities in the characteristics of apps for mobile phones and mobile-optimised websites. As an outcome of this session we hope to develop a criteria framework to help us decide when to develop something as an app and when to develop it as a mobile-optimised website. Niall Sclater, Director of Learning Innovation, has already given this question some consideration in a blog post earlier this year.
We hope to follow this with another session later in the year in which we will explore this topic in greater depth and try to answer the question "What sort of apps or mobile websites would it be worthwhile for the university to be making, and what would they look like?"
As always the session will include an opportunity for everyone to share updates on any work they have been doing around mobile devices.

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Keren Mills
1:36pm 20 July 2010

Some mobile sites that also have apps, which we can use for comparison are

Rhodri Thomas
2:51pm 27 July 2010

The output from the session was captured (in outline by me and possibly miscategorised) as follows:

Mobile Apps: Characteristics
Singular task, tool, no reqt to be online. Potential hybrid approach
Design of touch interface - UI considerations
Don't assume apps will have mobile connectivity. Apps not necessarily useful on a fuller OS (c.f laptop/netbook)
Mechanics of finding apps - app store vs search. Paywalls?
Marketing aspect - new channel, maintaining brand (but harder to push updates?)
Users keen to keep apps up to date?
Rapid development required - but also with quality UI. Development upskilling needs to be maintained/invested in.
An application? - Multiplatform - dependent on demographic. Multiple applications for different tasks?
Packaging or providing 'shell' app with plugins.
Use and integration of third-party apps that may do certain jobs better?
Informed judgement in usage - evaluating usefulness and discard non-useful apps - too many apps? Better to group and modularise?
Multiple markets? not necessarily dependent on centralised app stores

Mobile Apps: Uses
Inherently personal.
Equivalent experience to reading books?? vs looking at desktop screen?
Simulations for learning - to retain state - using an engine for multiplatform/reuse - and could be sold...
Assessment - use of camera phone for authenticity!
As supplementary activity - alternates required online or physically?

Mobile Apps: Advantages
Speed & convenience to access, can remember progress.
Take advantage of hardware features - location (geo/GPS, orientation) c.f. Google SkyMaps, accelerometer-enabled games. GPS only currently possible on websites. Also camera/multimedia
Interconnectivity - use of QR codes to bridge access to content/contacts from online

Google SkyMaps - augmented reality
Qik - for capturing video
'Test your knowledge' quizzes - prompt you at specific times

Mobile Websites: Characteristics

Quicker to change skin - and device-specific resolution etc.
Built alongside main site - inheriting and maintaining content and features
Useful as part of international agenda
Richer environment for content?
Two-way location-based sharing of content?

Mobile Websites: Uses
Learning material as well as services
Widening access
Link with the cloud as intermediary
Possibly the channel for student feedback and user-generated content?

Mobile Websites: Advantages

Lower development overhead.
Better accessibility options/customisation?
Instant change to all users simultaneously - apps as a new type of fixed media?
Possibly more stable than apps environment - due to findability, fragmentation, immature market
Cross platform


Mobile generally... use as an additional screen, and blending with physical media

Others may have notes they made on the cribsheets that they may like to add, and then we'll compile into a better guidance note on 'mobisite' when available after Summer.

Guy Carberry
10:42am 1 September 2010

This article provides an overview of three different strategies to make your websites work across all devices. We’ll call them mobile-aware websites, as they’re not specifically for mobile sites, but they will work on mobile, as well as across different alternative browsing devices. These strategies are not mutually exclusive; you can mix and match as your project, budget and sanity allows.


Jon Wade
12:09am 9 May 2011

One of the most popular content management systems is Wordpress and there are a few options for mobile themes. The most important aspect of any mobile site is simplicity. You have to be able to navigate effectively on a small screen and still be able to read the content. 

If there was an OU app, or a collaborative app for all universities, it could provide details of open lectures and talks through the app based on your location, so you will never miss an interesting lecture in your area. This could increase attendance significantly.

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