NB: This is guest article by Carl Kim (head of product development) and Mark Wallis (head of mobile technology) from My Destination.
We continue the journey to developing a mobile solution, a process which we began in the first part of the article.
Smartphone app, take 2
With our revised approach our mobile app would have a more focused purpose: to serve content based on the userâ€™s location â€“ in other words, a location-based service, albeit a relatively simple version of it.
Therefore, instead of duplicating everything on our website our app would focus on events, special offers, and local services in relation to the userâ€™s location. We also included weather forecast as this would be highly relevant when on location, as well as live flight information (via a relatively simple feed from a third party).
This “start small” approach was attractive because it allowed a quick build (with the added benefit of plugging the glaring gap left by the first and still-born attempt), and it was also in keeping with our â€˜itâ€™s a marathon not a sprintâ€™ mindset.
HTML vs native app
Another reason for our quick development is because we actually built the larger part of the app as a website site rather than a native application, which was then packaged and submitted to the Apple App Store.
We could have made this app the mobile version of our website so that if the user goes to our site via their smartphone, our system would detect this and redirect them to the mobile version (this is a standard feature, as you might already know).
However, we actively chose not to do this because our aim for the app wasnâ€™t to replace our full site, but to compliment it.
One thing that we want to be very clear about regarding creating an app in HTML rather than natively for a smartphone platform: we were fully aware that the latter offers functionality and therefore a user experience that is beyond what HTML can â€“ for example preloaded content and NFT.
However, given the level and type of functionality of our â€˜appâ€™ this was a moot point and HTML could comfortable create a good enough level of user experience.
Fast forward to the present day and the web is significantly surfed on mobile devices when compared to 18 months ago.
We think that some of the reasons for this might be the progressive advances in the devices themselves, namely in terms of screen size and their processing power; the wider availability of Wi-Fi hotspots; and of course simply by the greater take up of the devices themselves.
The advent of the tablet PCs (kick started by the iPad) also helped shift the mindset away from the compromised surfing experiences of earlier smartphones such as Blackberrys and Nokias running on Symbian.
This was backed up by our own data showing that for July this year 17% of our total visits come from mobiles, compared to 8% 18 months earlier.* Whilst this increase is not earth shattering it did support the emerging trend, and therefore pointed to our next logical step.
- [* A close look at our figures reveals some interesting trends: at 13% iOS is our second largest OS for our users overall (after Windows), and edging out Apple OS (at 11%) whereâ€™s 18 months ago it was 6.5% and firmly in third place behind Apple OS. Android is 4th amongst all OS with 3%, whereas 18 months ago it was in 6th place with only 1%]
We are soon launching our full website and we decided this is the right opportunity to also create a full mobile version which is to co-exist with our earlier mentioned app. Whilst the thought of lumping a mobile site onto the already significant project of rebuilding our main site was daunting, upon closer inspection it wasnâ€™t as scary.
The information architecture was already revised as part of the full site build and it was also technically re-engineered. This meant that the new site could easily adapt to a mobile version and our turnaround could be relatively quick.
Also, by the physical limitations of the device, the mobile version is in many ways has to be simpler than the full site.
The development work involved mainly the following:
- Wireframes â€“ Approximately 5 daysâ€™ worth of work, with the greater part being the navigation, menu, and deciding what content components should be removed. This is because they are the most impacted by the deviceâ€™s physical characteristics.
- Graphic design â€“ five days
- Front-end development â€“ 12 days
- Back-end development â€“ one day
- User acceptance testing and bug fixing â€“ two days (0.5 x four people)
An important functionality is to ensure that when users are viewing our website via smartphone devices they are automatically presented with the mobile version of the website, and this includes when the site appears on search engine results pages.
The implication of this is that we needed to create a mobile version of just about every single page of our new full website, and the only exception being those pages which arenâ€™t of importance and therefore we didnâ€™t want search engines to pick up, mobile version or not. We tagged these pages to give Google bots â€˜no followâ€™ instructions.
Like with most business we donâ€™t have money to burn, meaning that we canâ€™t do everything just because we want to. Once we have both the smartphone app and mobile website in place we feel weâ€™re meeting the most urgent needs.
Due to their screen sizes and resolutions which are in the vicinity of laptops we feel that tablet PCs will be adequately catered for by our new full website, at least for the time being.
However, in the way that smartphone apps and mobile websites meet different objectives, so too we feel we need to offer something that is unique for tablet PCs.
Therefore, before the end of the year weâ€™re looking to release a tablet-specific app. Right now weâ€™re not quite sure what the app will be, but one thing we do know is that we want to once again take small steps and improve incrementally as we observe how the technology and its use unfold.
One option is to approach the tablet as a social/leisure device and present our content in the form of a glossy, multimedia magazine â€“ with our large editorial team in headquarters and our local experts in 74 (and counting) global destinations we have amassed a great deal of travel articles, guides, videos and virtual tours.
This allows us to emphasise the inspirational stage of the travel lifecycle which is very much tied in with our USP of â€˜inspirationâ€™.
Quality not experimental
We feel that this measured and drawn out approach suits us best. Bit by bit we hope to eventually achieve a complete set of offerings to reach out to our audience on all the different platforms and in ways that make the most of each device. It also means that weâ€™ll be constantly evolving our offerings.
Given that thereâ€™s still a lot of uncertainty surrounding mobile weâ€™re keeping an open mind and the best we can do is to be flexible and patient, rather than reacting to the latest fad and trying to be revolutionary.
NB:Â This is guest article by Carl Kim (head of product development) and Mark Wallis (head of mobile technology) fromÂ My Destination.
NB2:Â Mobile travel map image via Shutterstock.