Key Trends in Mobile Publishing (stc14)

This week I’m attending STC Summit 2014, the annual conference of the Society for Technical Communication. Where feasible, I’ll take notes from the sessions I attend, and share them on this blog. All credit goes to the presenters, and any mistakes are mine.

During the opening session yesterday, Vikram Verma presented a very interesting snippet on mobile publishing trends. So I decided to attend his full-length presentation today. Vikram represents Adobe, one of the conference sponsors.

Vikram’s session covered the following topics:

  • Why you should care about multi-screen publishing.
  • Key mobile publishing trends in tech comm
  • Challenges and solutions
  • A demo of multi-device publishing with Adobe products

Trends

Looking at the four publishing output formats that companies are using for their mobile publications, Vikram gave the current state and a projected state for the near future:

  • HTML 5 is the most dominant with currently 28%, expected to rise to 48%
  • EPUB is now at 12% and will rise to 24%
  • Kindle is at 5%, rising 10%
  • Android is at 11%, expected to grow to 25%

Mobile publishing and structured authoring are the two strongest trends in technical communication.

How can you make your mobile publications user friendly?

Think about the new formats, rather than legacy formats such as PDF and web help. Legacy formats offer problems like:

  • Difficult to read. Zooming in can be problematic.
  • Not touch friendly. Icons and buttons are compressed on small devices.
  • Difficult to navigate.
  • Offer slow loading on a mobile device.

Be aware that attention spans are short, and design your pages accordingly. Research shows that the smaller the device, the lower the attention span. People are more likely to abandon your mobile content if they don’t like it. Also, people are five times more likely to abandon the task if the site isn’t optimised for mobile. Conversely, people are using their smart phones more than their desktops to browse the web. So you’re losing even loyal customers, who are now trying to access the content on the web.

Another challenge is device fragmentation. Mobile phones and tablets come in all sorts of sizes. People are even watching our content on their TVs.

Potential solutions

This is my summary of the solutions Vikram discussed at length:

  • Use responsive design. This allows the page format to change dynamically, depending on the output device. Vikram showed us a few responsive websites: Time Magazine, Mashable, CSS Tricks. Responsive design is a prominent trend in website design.
  • Use adaptive content. That is,  offer different content for different devices. One way is to have separate mobile websites. This is a very prevalent way of doing it, used by a number of big web companies, such as Google and Facebook.
  • Create mobile apps. This is a good way to offer a good experience for customers. It’s a way of delivering content for users when online access isn’t always available. (If you’re using HTML 5, the user needs to be online.)
  • Adopt a hybrid approach. Responsive design, but with some server-side components: RESS (Responsive Design with Server Side). Examples of sites using this approach: CNN, WordPress, SlideShare, eHow. To publish using RESS, you will define the device categories. For example, define categories for phones, tablets, desktops. For these categories, define the content and the layout. Use a server-side component to merge the content and layout definitions into an output format.

Vikram now talked through a matrix comparing the pros and cons of each approach in the following categories:

  • Mobile users’ needs
  • Ease of maintenance
  • SEO
  • Loading time and performance

The choice depends on the context and the end users’ environment.

Vikram finished with a demo of RESS using Adobe’s RoboHelp.

Thanks

This was an information-packed session, with plenty of opportunity for further investigation. Thanks Vikram!

About Sarah Maddox

Technical writer, author and blogger in Sydney

Posted on 20 May 2014, in STC, technical writing and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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