Friday, 20 January 2012

We need an independent mobile app UI standard

Does the proliferation of mobile UIs mean that it's time for developers tae think again about the use of web technologies?

In an article dated the 19th of January, Infoworld's Neil McAllister argues that the biggest challenge facing mobile developers is the proliferation of markedly different user interfaces on mobile phones.

There are two core threads to his argument:

Firstly, that mobile phone manufacturers are trying to distinguish their products by forcing a consistent "user experience" throughout the phone and all its apps, which means that the developer has to radically alter the user interface for each version of the app.

Secondly, that web-standards can't displace native apps because:
The Web has never presented anything even close to a consistent UI. Buttons, menus, preferences, dialogs, fonts, and icons all differ wildly. Each site is like a completely new platform unto itself.
But when it comes to developers trying to produce smartphone apps, there is certainly the choice to adhere to a set of UI standards.

So why don't the developers get together and institute a free-to-use standard UI toolkit, that is independent of target OS and development tools?  Such a toolkit could also potentially deal with one of the other major headaches of mobile app development -- screen sizes.  The toolkit could generate the buttons of an appropriate size for any given screen.

The overall effect would be a consistent look and feel across multiple apps and multiple platforms, and if enough people bought into it, it could eventually displace the phones' own UIs, at least in the Android space, and in the no-name smartphones offered by various networks.

But there's always the danger of forking.  How do you prevent that?

Well, you've got to give people a good incentive to stick to it, and I would say the best one would be this: a dedicated app store that only sells standards-compliant apps.  It would be a geek's favourite, certainly, and would therefore be a good way to make your apps stand out in an increasingly crowded market place.

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