Cloud Four Blog

Technical notes, War stories and anecdotes

Weekend Reading: Responsive Web Design and Mobile Context

Lots of great stuff published over the last few days focused on responsive web design and mobile context. Unsurprisingly, I have quite a bit to say about these topics and will write more about them in the next couple of days.

But in the meantime, I wanted to collect links to the articles in one place for handy access to anyone who wants to read them and so I had them at my disposal when I write my articles. Quotes are in italics.

Sea Change by Jeremy Keith
It’s always hard to tell what restarts a conversation that has been dormant for a few months. My suspicion is that Jeremy’s article was the fuel and Jeffrey Zeldman’s reference to Jeremy’s article was the catalyst.
Exquisite Tweets from Brian Fling, Ethan Marcotte, Bryan Rieger, and many others.
Brian Fling responded to Jeremy and Jeffrey on twitter spurring a rather lengthy discussion until Jeremy reminded everyone that we using blogs instead of 140 characters.
Responsive Web Design and Mobile Context by Tim Kadlec
Let me be clear—I’m not saying that there is never a need to tailor the content of a mobile site. I’m also not saying that responsive design and one web is an end all be all for mobile. It’s not a black and white issue—there are many, many shades of gray.
The Mobile Context
Mind reading is no way to base fundamental content decisions
It’s About People, Not Devices by Stephanie and Bryan Rieger
A must read about mobile context.
A Richer Canvas by Mark Boulton
Start designing from the content out, rather than the canvas in.
Toffee-Nosed by Ethan Marcotte
Because maybe your site is better served by a separate mobile site than by a responsive approach. Or maybe the reverse is true: maybe a responsive approach is more appropriate. The moral here is that you should tailor the approach to the project, and put the polemic aside. Because nobody knows your project, your audience, better than you do. Anyone who suggests otherwise is committing a different kind of fallacy.
Caveat by Jeremy Keith
But here’s the thing: I am fully aware that there is no one correct answer to every situation.
Context by Jeremy Keith
Breaks the discussion into three factors: viewport, bandwidth and context.
Responsive Web Design or Separate Mobile Site? Eh. It Depends by Josh Clark
Good summary of the overall conversation.
Clarification by Jeremy Keith
Here’s what I’m getting at: we act as though mobile is a new problem, and that designing for older devices—like desktop and laptop computers—is a solved problem. I’m saying that the way we’ve been designing for the desktop is fundamentally flawed. Yes, mobile is a whole new domain, but what it really does is show just how bad our problem-solving has been up ‘till now.

Deliriously Enthusiastic about Mobile Portland on Monday

Mobile Portland is Monday, March 28th at 6 pm. Details and RSVP.

I’m excited about Mobile Portland nearly every month, but this month’s topic is something I’ve been looking forward to for quite some time.

Last spring, I wandered into Renny Gleeson’s session at WebVisions not knowing what to expect. I didn’t know Renny well at the time, but we had had a couple of interesting conversations which made me curious.

Renny standing in front of a picture of the CellScope during his 2010 WebVisions talk

His session was called World Changing Brands and claimed to “peer into the future to see if advertising can change the world.” Frankly, that didn’t bode well for me as an advertising-skipping Tivo user. But there was a hint that he might have something up his sleeve with an abstract that included the question “can we ‘hack the channels’ and help brands do well AND do good?”

Renny’s talk blew me away.

After the talk, I begged for his slides. I talked to anyone I could about his idea of corporations as platforms for social change. I pulled Sara Winge aside at Open Web Foo Camp and walked her through Renny’s slides because I thought the concepts were similar enough to Tim O’Reilly’s idea of government as a platform that I thought O’Reilly might be interested.

Because many of Renny’s examples were mobile, I’ve been looking for a good opportunity to have him talk at Mobile Portland.

That opportunity suddenly presented itself this month when our neighbors at Uncorked Studios started working on a very important project called is a website that collects radiation readings in Japan and plots them on a map. And while it started with a small idea of finding a way to help out and a two-day development sprint, I’ve watched it turn into much more than that.

The phenomenal folks at Uncorked Studios have put their lives on hold as they collaborate with people around the world to collect better data, understand the meaning of the data they’ve collected, and be responsible stewards of information that can overwhelm and frighten us.

Recently, Marcelino Alvarez, Uncorked Studios; Raven Zachary, Small Society; Dave Howell, Avatron Software, and I took a road trip to Hood River to talk to the Gorge Technology Alliance about mobile technology.

As I watched Marcelino shift from talking about the mobile apps that Uncorked Studios had built to talking about the project, I realized that was a sibling to the projects that Renny had highlighted last spring. It was another example of people taking information, technology and products and mashing them up in ways that no one had anticipated in an attempt to help others.

During Marcelino’s talk, I envisioned how bringing Renny’s big concept talk together with Marcelino’s real world example would be an awesome Mobile Portland event. But lining up two busy people is a challenge—especially on short notice and when one of them is on vacation.

But thankfully everything came together for Monday and what promises to be an exceptional Mobile Portland event. Thanks to Marcelino and Renny for making it happen.

As stumbled to find the words for a title to this post that would describe how excited I was, I found myself thinking about what my friend Josh Clark had written in an email about another grand, but unrelated idea:

LOVE it. Color me deliriously enthusiastic (a rather bright orange) about this idea.

I’m going to glowing a rather bright orange between now and Monday night when Renny and Marcelino finish speaking. I hope you will join me at Mobile Portland on Monday. It’s going to be excellent.

Breaking Development Conference = Mobile Web Awesomeness

If you’re working on mobile web, the Breaking Development Conference is something you must attend. Here’s why.

It is an intimate conference with one track focused on mobile web. That focus guarantees the conversations both in the room and outside the room are outstanding.

The speaker line up is crazy good. These are the folks at the leading edge of mobile web development:

  • Peter-Paul Koch — Yes, Mr. Quirksmode himself is coming to the U.S. which means we’re going to get to hear first hand how messed up and inconsistent mobile devices are when it comes to standards support. In all seriousness, no one knows what mobile browsers support what better than PPK.
  • Brian LeRoux — Brian is one of the leading PhoneGap developers and a javascript guru. I’ve seen him talk before and he is always hilarious and informative. He will also drink you under the table.
  • Stephanie Rieger — One half of the dynamic duo that form Yiibu in the UK. Yiibu’s site is one of the first examples of building mobile-first responsive web design. Stephanie has a long history of working on mobile including building the mobile web templates that Nokia uses. Her topic expanding on Yiibu’s recent article about mobile context is one of the talks I’m looking forward to most.
  • Nate Koechley — Nate helped create Graded Browser Support and Yahoo!’s User Interface and Design Patterns (YDP) Libraries. If ever we needed grades for browsers, it is in mobile. Nate’s going to be talking about the Taxonomy of Touch.
  • Stephen Hay — I haven’t met Stephen yet, but I’m looking forward to it. I watched a video of him give a similar talk on Real-world Responsive Design at Fronteers 2010. In the video, he called out my media queries fools gold post. So at minimum, we’ll have something to talk about. :-)
  • Brian Alvey — First he was a guest on The Big Web Show. Then I saw him in some other context. Finally, I saw his name on the speaker list. I swear that every time I turned around I bumped into Brian’s name. Who is this guy? Well, he’s been doing web for years. He is working on the intersection of mobile and cloud computing now. I’m curious to hear what he has to say.
  • James Pearce — James is wicked smart when it comes to mobile. He used to be the CTO of dotMobi and now works in Developer Relations for Sencha. He is working on a book about how to use current content management systems for mobile which is one of the big infrastructure issues I’m interested in. I haven’t met James in person yet, but feel like I know him. Good guy with strong opinions.
  • Jonathan Snook — Who doesn’t know Jonathan Snook? It’s hard to forget a name like that and you’ll eventually run into one of his articles if you spend any time in web development. I’m keenly interested in his talk on making mobile apps that feel like native apps.
  • Luke Wroblewski — I wouldn’t be surprised if the audience chanted “Luuuukkkkkeeeee” when he comes on stage. Luke coined the Mobile First mantra. His book on Web Form Design shed light on a topic we all should have been paying attention to long ago. And I’ve had the pleasure of reading a draft of his new book for A Book Apart on Mobile First. It is excellent. Plus a great guy to boot. Can’t wait to see him again.
  • Brian Fling — Brian is another long time mobile guy. His O’Reilly book on Mobile Design and Development is one of the best introductions to the topic. His topic is one I’m looking forward to a lot. There have been years of mobile development before the iPhone. A lot of the lessons from that period are either forgotten or actively ignored. Brian’s going to talk about what the web community can learn from the mobile community.
  • David Kaneda — The guy created jQTouch and works as Creative Director at Sencha. Nuff said.
  • Ben Combee — Ben works for HP on WebOS. He’s going to talk about Enyo development tools. If you haven’t seen Enyo, you’re missing out.

I’m also speaking at the conference, but I’m an interloper amongst so many big names. This is a conference I would happily pay to attend.

If the lineup doesn’t alone make it worth while, there are two additional reasons you should consider attending:

  1. The conference has speakers representing both sides of two currently hot debates: responsive web design vs. server-side detection and whether or not there is a mobile context. I’m certain everyone will be cordial, but I’m also sure the speakers aren’t going to agree all of the time. That makes for a more interesting conference.
  2. With speakers like this, everyone is going to want to step up their game.

So that’s my pitch. This is going to be a great conference. There’s still time to register. Come join us.

We’re Hiring for a Mobile Developer

Are you emphatically excited about mobile technology? Do you build iPhone apps in your spare time? Not sure if Androids dream of electronic sheep, but you’re working on an HTML5-based app that will answer the question definitively?

We’re looking for an enthusiastic mobile developer to join our team: someone who falls on the engineering side of the development spectrum, but is also comfortable with front-end technology.

We’re a small agency focused on building mobile and web solutions for our customers. We believe in cross-platform solutions and advocate a mixture of mobile web, native, and hybrid approaches to mobile development depending on the project objectives.

Our ideal candidate is someone who is flexible, open to new technologies, and a quick learner. Mobile is fast-paced and constantly changing. We’re looking for someone who sees opportunities and challenges amongst the many different mobile devices and their inconsistent behavior.

Cloud Four was founded in November 2007 by four mobile and Web enthusiasts. Our mission is to create usable, inspired mobile and web applications using standards-based technologies. Our clients range from Fortune 500 companies to local businesses, and our projects vary in audience and scope accordingly.

This is a full time position on-site in lovely Portland, Ore. We offer benefits including medical, dental, vision, and IRA.

Job Description

  • Research, identify and document client technical requirements.
  • Determine and identify appropriate technologies to be used.
  • Assist with developing technical project schedules, plans, task assignments and time estimates.
  • Assist in strategic planning and requirements gathering.
  • Program mobile applications and build mobile web sites.
  • Be a positive and enthusiastic contributor to our team.
  • Actively, consistently communicate with team members about project process and progress.

Our ideal candidate is:

  • able to create a concise, clear plan of action from multiple input sources and stakeholders; flexible and responsive to changes in requirements and scope.
  • self-directed; takes an ownership role of complex projects.
  • strategy-focused and creative; excited to face new challenges and learn new skills.
  • deadline-driven and steadfast about meeting commitments to customers.
  • invigorated by learning new technologies and solving new problems.
  • an excellent communicator, with the ability to comprehend and articulate technical concepts, both verbally and in writing.
  • an independent learner who can quickly apply new skills productively.
  • enthusiastic about the job; enjoys solving customer needs.
  • a straightforward, honest, team player.
  • able to effectively prioritize multiple task.
  • comfortable working in a small, start-up environment.

Skills and experience we’re seeking:

  • 3-5+ years of relevant technical experience or related background
  • Extensive experience with cross-platform JavaScript and DOM scripting
  • Server- and client-side web site or application programming (more engineering than design)
  • device detection for mobile web
  • PhoneGap or other hybrid mobile app development
  • iPhone and/or Android development
  • Strong problem solving and analysis skills
  • Strong competency in web technologies and development
  • BA/BS or equivalent

To Apply

Email your cover letter and resume to No recruiters please.

Friday Food for Thought: Why is the Mac App Store Different?

Yesterday, Distimo released research showing that revenue on the Mac App Store is already half that of iPad apps. This reminded me of a thought experiment I had posed to some friends recently.

Here’s the scenario:

Assume you either work for a major brand like Home Depot or consult with them on their digital initiatives. You see news that Pixelmator grossed $1 million on the Mac App Store in only 20 days. You read a Distimo report about how much revenue has been made on the Mac App Store.

Do you advise your brand to build an app for the Mac App Store or not?

I asked friends who are big advocates of native apps and their immediate answer was, “No, it probably doesn’t make sense for a company like Home Depot to build a Mac app.”

Yet, if you ask the same question when it comes to mobile, the advice would likely be very different. Even though I advocate that mobile web needs to be part of a company’s mobile strategy, I wouldn’t think twice about the fact that a big brand might decide to build an iPhone app.

Why is mobile different?

I’m not posing a false question here. I’m sincerely trying to figure out why if I take the scenario above and replace Mac with iPhone or iPad, we would evaluate the situation differently. And when I say “we” would evaluate it differently, I’m including myself.

An easy answer is to say that there is no difference and that we’re wasting a lot of money building apps for mobile.

But if we assume for a moment there is a valid reason that causes us to treat mobile differently in this scenario, then it seems understanding this reason could help us articulate some core differences between mobile and desktop.

Some food for thought.