New UA Mobile Web Site Optimizes Content for Smartphones
As devotees of iPhones, BlackBerrys and other mobile devices can attest, attempting to navigate a Web site using a smartphone is often a much different experience than navigating it using a traditional browser. To continue ongoing efforts to refine and optimize the University’s Web presence for any user, anywhere, the Office of Web Communications has rolled out the new UA Mobile Web site, a custom site and suite of applications that deliver content, services and features to mobile users. Lead developer Matthew Muro and colleagues worked to configure UA’s top-level Web services and content — such as news, events, directories, campus maps, video and more — specifically for smartphones.
“Mobile users are one of the fastest-growing percentages of users of our Web sites. UA Mobile Web is part of a continual effort to make sure that our content is optimized for all users, regardless of the technology they use,” says Andy Rainey, director of Web Communications. According to market research firm ComScore, smartphone usage grew by 63 percent between August 2008 and August 2009 — from 20.7 million mobile subscribers to 33.7 million. The upward trend, Rainey says, holds true for UA’s Web audience as well. “Our approach is always to focus on accessibility and usability, and we feel this removes another barrier to accessing important University resources,” he says. “We’re working to maximize the ways technology can deliver our content to users.”
As the capabilities of mobile devices have expanded, the popularity of mobile Web sites and applications has grown rapidly. UA Mobile Web is accessible to any mobile device with Internet access, and does not require users to download any software. “It’s a Web site that is optimized for the mobile experience for all audiences,” Rainey says.
UA Mobile Web is accessible via a link from the UA home page, www.ua.edu, or directly at http://m.ua.edu. However, visitors who navigate to the home page from a smartphone don’t even need to take those extra steps — they’re automatically redirected to the appropriate mobile version for their device. The Web Communications team has developed separate versions tailored for the iPhone and for other platforms such as the BlackBerry, Android and Windows Mobile. If they choose, users can also link to the full UA home page, as it appears in a Web browser, through the mobile site.
Although some elements work better with certain devices — video, for example, is compatible with an iPhone and newer smartphones, but not well supported on older models — mobile users will have a quick, streamlined avenue for locating the types of content they’re most likely to need on the go (contact information, maps and so forth). “We prioritized the first wave of mobile-optimized features based on some of the most popular and useful content on our Web site,” Rainey says. Ultimately, users still can drill down into UA Mobile Web to access all content that appears on the University’s home page and family of sites.
Currently, the mobile site is in its beta (or initial release) version, but the Web Communications team plans to expand its functionality, deepen its reach and diversify its content as the site becomes more established. Because the Office of Web Communications manages only UA’s institutional Web pages, Rainey encourages interested colleges, departments and divisions to create mobile sites of their own that will complement UA Mobile Web. “We anticipate that other areas of campus will have interest in building their own mobile sites, and we will certainly work with them to integrate those into UA Mobile Web,” he says.