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We have a web mapping application (front end is all Flex) that has been designed with the keyboard and mouse in mind.

It is similar to a desktop based app, (think Photoshop) with toolbars, tables, forms, yes/no buttons, sliders, checkboxes, etc.

The mobile trend also means our clients now want the option to access our application from their mobile devices (not yet done research into the specifics here, but touch based devices, especially tablets & iPads). I also understand that Flex-Mobile does cover a lot of different devices.

We were discussing a mock-up for a GUI change the other day, and it was raised on if we should be considering designing the interface more for both keyboard/mouse users and touch, or if we should be building a separate front-end for our touch based users.

What considerations should I be taking into account here, as I would like to put together a well-informed case to the Product Owner on which path to take.

I think that it will need to be a separate front-end. I was just about to use the analogy of 'imagine using Photoshop on an iPad' and found they have a separate app for that.

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dnbrv makes some good points for buildings multiple apps. Are there any reasons against this approach? I am thinking about keeping multiple apps up to date, vs one main app, that perhaps has different skins depending on the client device. Will HTML5 offer a more universal answer at all? Would like to see the other side of the coin. –  Simon Jan 23 '12 at 8:08

1 Answer 1

Yes, you absolutely must create a separate application for mobile devices. In addition, you may need to create different versions for different devices because of differences in interaction guidelines and device capabilities (e.g. Android and Windows Phone devices have a dedicated search button while iOS devices don't).

There are quite a few differences between mobile devices and personal computer that impact not only the interface design but also features in applications:

  • Mobile devices has smaller screens both in physical size and in resolution.
  • Inputs on mobile devices are different from personal computers (no hover state for pointer, no keyboard shortcuts, multitouch gestures, limited physical buttons).
  • Less processing power than what personal computers have.
  • Mobile devices are used for different purposes and in different environments than personal computers.

Your example of Photoshop applications is a good one. Here are a few reports by Jacob Nielsen on guidelines & findings in mobile usability and content:
Why WSJ Mobile App Gets ** Customer Reviews
Defer Secondary Content When Writing for Mobile Users
Mobile Usability Update
Mobile Content: If in Doubt, Leave It Out
Mobile UX Sharpens Usability Guidelines

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Future versions of Android will no longer have the dedicated search button as it's removed from ICS. Search will only be available when given as an action bar command. However this also sounds like it will be a web app which wouldn't necessarily have to conform to all platform conventions. Twitter's mobile app works brilliantly on every touch device I've tried it on. –  Ben Brocka Feb 1 '12 at 15:12
    
@BenBrocka: Funny, how people only upvoted for 10 days without commenting. Good points. I'll review the answer shortly. –  dnbrv Feb 1 '12 at 15:26
    
Not many seem aware of the Search switch...it's a totally neglected feature which is why Android is removing the dedicated button. The Q also doesn't make it 100% clear he means a web app (which is at least what I got out of it) –  Ben Brocka Feb 1 '12 at 15:54

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