Tuesday, 1 January 2013

A Response to Responsive Design in Apex 4.2

I have been following with a lot of interest the discussions regarding implementing Responsive Design using Theme 25 in Apex 4.2.  In case you are out of the loop, Responsive Design has to do with building applications that are fully functional across many different devices with various "viewport" sizes from the small screens of smartphones to the largest desktop screens.

My journey begin by reading Shakeeb Rahman's blogs on Responsive design here. I downloaded the presentation slides and worked my way through them. To me, this was exciting stuff. I was beginning to explore new approaches to web applications and it was quite cool had it all worked. I then downloaded Apex 4..2 and began to play with them 25 to see how it all fit together.

Not being convinced I had all the tools and information I needed, I purchased the book Responsive Web Design with HTML5 and CSS3 by Ben Frain that you can find here. It is a really great book and leads you through the whole implementation of a practical Responsive web application. I learned a tremendous amout about HTML5 and CSS3 and how to enhance what theme 25 already tries to accomplish. I built a couple of good test applications that worked very well on various deI vices.

Now here is where my response comes in.....

I have a large application that is used by many concurrent users. And, as you might expect, I thought "hey, why not make it responsive?"  I set about to do just that. Not as simple as you might think. The big issue for me is that the application is primarily a series of real-time reports. Many of these reports are quite large and consist of up to fourteen columns. Some of the reports include drill-downs where the data is displayed on modal pages for ease of use and navigation. These reports simply are not suited for small screens - you can't avoid scrolling and the reports are almost useless in a small format. I just didn't make sense to try and make the application work all small viewports. Here is a case where it would be far more productive to have 2 separate user interaces, one for desktop and one for mobile (fully supported in Apex 4.2). The mobile application can present streamlined reports with only critical columns while the desktop version can support the full reports.

There is, of course, a greater cost to having two separate interfaces (one for mobile and one for desktop). You need to support both versions of the application. The logic may in some places be duplicated. You may need to maintain separate CSS files and so on. But, in my case, no other approcah seems to make sense. I am open to comments from others that may suggest I am wrong. After all, I am new at Responsive Design. Please do feel free to offer you own feedback.

I also did a bit of checking on my application. In Apex, you can monitor how your application is being accessed. You can monitor what OS is used and what browser. I found, dare I say it, over seventy percent of my users are accessing my application from IE (Yikes!!!!). This despite a message on the login page advising that the application is best used with Firefox. So, why spend oodles of development time (not to mention money) trying to make the application responsive.

I am not suggesting that we ought not to learn about and use Responsive Desgin. It has a clear role in making our applications future-proof. After all, more and more users today access websites via a device other than a desktop. What I am suggesting, however, is that creating "responsive" applications is but one approach. There are instances when it will be appropriate and instances where is simply won't achieve great results.

Perhaps the key lies in planning the design from the very start. If instread of simply following an approach and layout dictated by our client, or worse, by a graphic designer, we take the position from the start that it would be ideal to have a responsive application. In other words, we approach the whole project from a responsive point of view and try to desgin and build an application that can in fact be independent of the device on which it is viewed. To do this, you need to understand some of the concepts, techniques and tools involved in creating responsive web applications. There is no doubt this is the future. In my view, it is one more tool in our toolbox and not the solution to every situation. Thankfully, Apex 4.2 gives us a number of approaches to consider and to implement.


29 comments:

  1. Hi Bruce,

    I really liked reading this post. In theory, responsive design is perfect solution to the problem of interacting with content on different devices. In reality, as you found, things can be a little different.

    Some sites are perfect candidates for responsive design - especially those where the user is simply consuming content in the public internet. However, for business applications it may make sense to optimize the user experience for the desktop environment and not waste time on trying to make that same application work on a tablet or phone.

    Of course other times you'll be creating a business application that is specifically intended for use on the go. In this scenario you may choose to go responsive or you may optimize for mobile only.

    The decision of how to design the application will always revolve around the application's purpose, the use cases of how users may interact with the application, developer talent, and budget. Or maybe it's just budget ;) Unfortunately there's no silver bullet.

    Regards,
    Dan

    ReplyDelete
  2. Bruce, Dan,

    i'm with you guys. Responsive Web Design is not the holy grail and the one solution for everything.

    For proper RWD you need to put a lot of time and thought in the Design process to get everything right. Define all Display Sizes and Categories you want to Support and how each should be treated. Simply using Theme 25 and hoping everything will be fine just isn't enough.

    Not to forget that RWD is decided by the Client device. That means the whole Page is downloaded to the (mobile) Device and then the Device decides what to display, and what not.

    As usual knowledge is key. Think about how your Application is going to be used and find the right solution. Either RWD or separate Applications for Desktop and Mobile. Both has its advantages (and disadvantages).

    Thanks for writing that Post,

    Peter

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