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For modern development, “Desktop” and “Mobile” are not enough

Friday, 30 October 2020

At 386 words, this article should take about 2 minutes to read.

This article is more than a year old and the information in it may be out of date.

We need to expand our vocabulary.

Different devices have different capabilities, using mobile to describe both narrow screens and touch screens is confusing and leads to assumptions that come back to bite us.

If I dock my browser to half of my screen (which I do a lot) it's the same width as a portrait iPad but it doesn't have the same capability - I have hover states, for example.

Conversely, an iPad Pro is bigger than my laptop but has a touch screen.

  • Narrow screens require adjusting layout
  • Touch capability requires adjusting functionality

We don't require any extra designs, we need to think about whether this design works.

And, of course, use our new vocabulary to accurately maintain our products.

I'll give you an example…

I'm currently working on a project - the frontend is responsive and the layout stacks according to the screen dimensions. On the homepage there is a carousel of cards where additional copy is displayed on hover.

I was asked to make the additional copy always visible on mobile.

In this case, "mobile" is not correct. If I was to only target "narrow screens", the functionality is still broken on large touchscreens because the issue with this hidden copy is "hoverability", not screen size.

Showing/hiding the copy based on whether the screen is wider or narrower than 768px wouldn't solve the problem!

It's almost always a matter of education. A client is going to notice a bug on her iPhone and relay it as "on mobile". And that's absolutely fine; it's not her job to be aware of all of the nuance - it's ours.

The trick here is not to assume that her definitition of "mobile" is identical to your definition of "mobile" and plough ahead making changes. Consider what is causing the issue, maybe even ask whether it's caused by a narrow screen, touch or lack thereof.

If you work with a client for any length of time, they'll cotton on and start to use the vocabulary.

Everyone speaking the same language leads to less confusion, less faux pas, less re-fixing the same bug because we assumed wrong.

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Thomas Rigby

Thomas Rigby

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