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Optimising content for handheld devices: A good practice toolkit

A collection of tools, tips and examples of good practice for providing content to mobile devices

Cloudscape created by:

Keren Mills
27 April 2012

This toolkit is aimed at publishers and other providers of academic content who may benefit from allowing their users to access their content on handheld devices such as smartphones and tablets. It will include good practice guidelines, basic principles and tools to help content providers who wish to optimise their content for delivery to mobile devices.

Consumer technology is constantly changing and people are increasingly consuming content through a greater variety of devices such as mobile phones, tablets and televisions. All of these devices have different capabilities for displaying and interacting with content and they are increasingly being used to access and interact with a variety of leisure reading such as news, books and magazines. These types of content are increasingly easy to consume on small screen devices as they are provided through mobile optimised websites, mobile apps or formats which render well on mobile devices such as html and ePub.

Researchers and students wishing to access academic content in the same way are faced with a much more challenging environment. Even accessing academic content on a desktop device requires a degree of specialist knowledge about where and how to look for it and whether you can only access it on campus or whether you can sign in from off campus. Once a researcher has overcome all of those barriers and managed to find the full text of a journal article on your smartphone they may find that reading it is akin to trying to see it through a keyhole because the text remains stubbornly laid out in the way it was meant to be read on the printed page. The reader cannot improve this situation without infringing copyright, so it must be up to the content provider to ensure that content is delivered to all screen sizes in accessible and readable formats.

Benefits of optimising content for mobile devices

Mobile devices give your users more choice in the way they consume your content. Providing content in flexible formats that allow it to be resized for different screen sizes, different bandwidths and different browsers, readers or media players improves their reading experience and helps to ensure your content will work on new types of devices as they become available.

Newspapers found they were losing readers as more and more people turned to online sources for their news. A 2012 report from the Pew Internet project shows that by making their content easily accessible online and on handheld devices newspapers are able to retain their readers (Mitchell, Rosenstiel, Christian & Pew Research Center, 2012).

According to a report by Global Industry Analysts, Inc (GIA 2012) “About 70% of mobile users are expected to use mobile Internet services on a daily basis in the coming years, particularly in the US and Europe.” There are also a growing number of people whose only access to the internet is through a smartphone. Some countries which offer new markets have more mobile internet access than desktop access.

Designing for mobile has been shown to benefit desktop design. Web developers have noted that designing for mobile first can improve accessibility and usability because the design will be focused on the core content and functionality required. There are also strong similarities between accessibility and optimal mobile design.

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