Wednesday, April 30, 2008

480 x 320 is the new 1024 x 768 (From Clark Quinn's Learnlets Blog)

Clark Quinn has an interesting thought I would like to challenge:

How do we achieve a balanced solution for mobile content and applications? The iPhone has really raised the bar for mobile web browsing, and most mobile devices will soon have high quality browsing even if the screen remains small. Similarly, the growth area in handhelds are so-called ‘converged’ devices: smartphones or wireless-enabled PDAs. Consequently, I propose it will be a plausible approach to start thinking of web apps as a delivery vehicle for mLearning.

Web standards for screen size started at 640 x 480, and have ranged through 800 x 600, to 1024 x 768. The iPhone has established a significant enough market presence to drive a variety of sites to create a version that accommodates the iPhone’s resolution of 480 x 320. Phones can go down to as low as 160 x 160, so that might be your lowest common denominator, but I believe a safe bet could be 320 x 240 which is fairly common on a variety of devices. The new 800 x 600?

The point being, that thinking about small web apps may be the cost-effective and logical approach to provide mobile access, content. 160 x 160 is the new 640 x 480, etc. Already there are blogging tools for phones/mobile devices, and wikis are just web pages, etc. Web 1.0 is likely to be a viable solution, and the convergence of Web 2.0 and mobile is a promising place to play. Anyone game?

I would like to challenge Clark on one more thought. Maybe no standard size is the new standard? We have years of instructional design methods and standards regarding when to put what content in training. With mLearning, it seems many folks are trying to smash existing content standards into preset screen sizes. Instead of thinking lowest common denominator, why not consider mailable content to the end-user's situation? By this, I mean that content isn't written with one single screen size in mind, but instead, we take the approach of creating content that, by design, will modify itself to the user versus simply the screen size.

Think about it this way, if a user is accessing training on a 160x160 handset, he obviously is looking for something, at a time or in a location, that prevents him from accessing this content from a different venue. Does he need a quick answer? If he needs a quick answer or quick training, is a truncated eLearning course the best solution?

Over and over, it has been said that one of the factors in mLearning not taking off is screen size. Maybe we as developers are partially to blame as we've been focusing on fitting old eLearning models into new formats? Maybe we need to start changing our models to fit our user's full experience, not just his screen size?

Just something to chew on for a while........


Leonard said...

Sizing mobile content certainly has been a contentious issue. When I wrote the Standards for mobile learning, I grappled with various ideas on standardising the sizes and formats of content, and ultimately had to conclude that prescribing a single size (or, in most cases, file format) for mobile content was a flawed approach.

Instead, I took up the W3C's position on the issue. They suggest creating content that is capable of rendering on "baseline" specifications; but, where possible, creating it so that it scales up gracefully (in terms of both appearance and functionality) for more capable devices. For example, a 640x480 JPEG file displays well on a huge variety of mobile devices, and doesn't take up a huge amount of memory capacity; but a 160x160 image is much more limiting and may even be incapable of rendering the content sufficiently (e.g. text in the image may be too pixelated to be readable), even on higher-resolution devices.

Where such an approach cannot be adopted, providing alternative sizes and formats is the next-best approach, and allows the end-user to download or access the content that is most suitable for their particular device. This is the case with things like video files, where different devices play different file formats at different resolutions. Rather than prescribe a single "standard" - which would then exclude the vast majority of devices from even being capable of displaying the content - the most accessible approach is to provide the same content, pre-converted to different sizes and/or file formats, to allow the user to conveniently choose and download the best version for their device.

The idea of creating *all* mobile content to target low-specification devices is to be avoided. This approach only results in poor-quality mobile experiences even on highly-capable mobile platforms.

Steve Howard said...

Why would you even consider putting text into an image if you know it's headed for mobile? :-)

I agree - liquid design makes most sense. eems like most people are still stuck with HTML in mind, though, when they talk mobile content. There are many richer alternatives ...

Leonard said...

@Steve: well (just for example) using a set of image files is one way of packaging a presentation to make it more mobile and interoperable. I don't know of many PMPs that can read a PowerPoint file or a PDF, for example, but iPods, mobile phones, and most other mobile devices can happily display a folder of sequentially-numbered image files.

Adding text to an image is also the standard method for the creation of LoLCats. :) And it's nice to have a couple of favourite kittehs on one's mobile device for sharing or a midday chuckle. :)