A couple of recent articles point out trends in mobile web development at colleges and universities. Writing in The Chronicle, Josh Keller describes the trend away from app creation and toward mobile web sites.
A main factor in this is development costs, given the plethora of mobile platforms out there. “It so happens that mobile Web is the most economical…It’s clearly the easiest way to do it.” I’ve written before that new technologies are coming that might reduce the need to develop apps for many different platforms, so the cost factor may be less intrusive in the near future. There are other reasons, however, for favoring web sites over apps in the mobile space of a university:
“Releasing a mobile application requires getting all departments involved to release their data and stick to the same schedule, which can be a challenge, says William Allison, director of campus technology services at the University of California at Berkeley. Mobile Web sites can be produced in a way that more closely mirrors the decentralized structure of most colleges’ technical staff, he says.
“’It’s actually a paradigm that works well in a university,’ Mr. Allison says. ‘We’re not a top-down type of organization.”
Mobile web sites often come across as less polished than apps, however. Cutting edge features are sacrificed for ease of development, thus missing an important user demographic:
“But Mr. [Kayvon] Beykpour[vice president of Blackboard Mobile] says mobile applications are worth it. Colleges without one will miss reaching a critical group of tech-savvy users who ‘10 times out of 10’ prefer downloading an application over using a mobile Web site, which serves the ‘everyone-else bracket,’ he says. Mobile applications can also take advantage of the latest features of smartphones and tablets.”
Karine Joly reports the results of a survey she sent to over 230 professionals at 199 institutions of higher education. Among her findings:
- 37% of the survey respondents provide a mobile solution (developed within the last year in 68% of these cases), 57% of the survey respondents plan to implement a solution in the future (in less than a year in 69% of these cases)
- 89% of the survey respondents identify current students as a target audience for the mobile solution, with 86% of the survey respondents planning a solution to target prospective students
- 76% of the survey respondents with an existing solution want to serve faculty and staff
- 81% of the existing or planned mobile solutions have the goal of supporting campus life by providing a calendar of events, bus schedules or maps among other things
- 58% of the survey respondents with an existing solution provide a dedicated mobile website and only 22% provide apps
- 75% of the solutions were developed by staff/faculty, 17% by a higher ed vendor
- 75% of the survey respondents with a mobile solution report no budget (!)
- 63% don’t spend more than 20 hours per week on mobile web work, 20% devote no time to it
I get the sense that schools are playing catch-up and are doing it on a shoestring. Most are going the mobile website route, and marketing and everyday utility seem to be the main focus, rather than instructional uses. Student developers are probably heavily used and the idea seems to be to get something up and running quickly that will generate some buzz.
Just as solutions are on the way for standards-based app development, web development is moving toward techniques that will optimize web sites for both desktops and mobile devices without the need to have separate sites for each. This is called Responsive Web Design, and it is just catching on. See the video below for an example!