The Mobile Book Reviewed

I’ve never read a book about the mobile Web and how the growing use of mobile devices affects building websites. Most of what I’ve learned has been from articles written by thought leaders online. People like Ethan Marcotte, Brad Frost and Trent Walton.

My learning was sporadic at best, so when Vitaly from Smashing Magazine kindly offered me a review copy of their new print book, The Mobile Book, I jumped at the chance to really brush up on my mobile knowledge.

As somebody who spends a lot of time tinkering and tweaking websites to make them work better, I thought this book was bloody brilliant. There is so much depth and information packed into its 336 pages that I think it will become the book for the mobile Web.

Despite its title, this book isn’t just about mobile devices and how to prepare and design for the medium. I got a massive amount of value from the responsive design strategies and patterns chapters by Trent Walton and Brad Frost, and the UX chapter was very interesting to me personally because it’s something I don’t have a massive amount of knowledge on.

However, what really stood out for me in this book was the Mobile Landscape chapter. It was an enthralling story of how the mobile revolution came to be, why it exploded in the way it did, the multitude of mobile browsers we need to cater for and where the mobile web will go next. I, for one, welcome the connectedness to TV’s, fridges and cars!

If you’re thinking about buying this book (seriously, pre-order it now), here is a quick breakdown of the main parts and themes of the book, with a couple of my personal takeaways.

The Mobile Landscape

The take-away for Web developers is that, by deciding which phones will be offered to unsuspecting consumers, operators influence the mobile browser market, because those devices’ default browsers will get more market share. Thus, keeping track of operators’ current preferences is important.

I think this is a hugely important point to make by Peter-Paul Koch. Knowing which browsers are popular with the operators lets you focus your attention on. These are the devices that salespeople will be steering you towards because the operators offer varying amounts of commission for different handsets. I know, because I’ve worked for two of the biggest operators in the UK – and whenever Sony Ericsson or whoever ran a promotion, we’d push their phones harder.

We are in the early days of the “connected things with screens” era. We can expect a great deal of experimentation in the coming years, with more than a few products released simply because “we can.” This opportunistic pairing of screens with devices is already well under way in the lifestyle and home appliances sectors.

In The Future of Mobile chapter, Stephanie Rieger explores the idea of “connectedness”. Both people and devices will be connected in multiple different ways. These new technologies will offer infinite potential and opportunities to designers and developers. How would your current website look on a 50″ LED TV? It won’t be long before questions like that require a real answer.

Responsive Web Design

Ultimately, I realized that we must trade the control we thought we had in Photoshop for a new kind of control—using flexible grids, fluid images and media queries to build not a page, but a network of content that can be rearranged at any screen size to best convey the message.

Trent Walton kicks off the responsive web design (RWD) chapter with a look at the strategy of RWD. He talks about how powerful the original article by Ethan Marcotte was and covers fluid grids, images, videos and more. The code snippets are incredible and it really got me thinking about Open Designs. I currently use an adaptive design with set pixel widths – but this chapter has inspired me to go fully responsive with a fluid grid.

Brad Frost follows this up with a look at RWD patterns that are impossible to articulate using Photoshop alone. It will make you see page layouts, navigation, and content in a whole new light.

Rounding out the RWD section is Dave Olson who delves into optimization for the mobile Web. Given that Open Designs homepage weights in at a massive 1.7Mb, this chapter was hugely beneficial for me. Load times, HTTP responses and image choices are of paramount importance when designing for mobile.

Not only that, but using Javascript libraries like jQuery will reduce the device battery life – even if you aren’t using all of the potential functionality. Check out Who Killed My Battery (PDF) for more information. (Hat tip to Peter-Paul Koch for pointing this out to me)

UX Design

The final chapter on UX design, by both Dennis Kardys and John Clark, is far too indepth and awesome for me to even accurately cover. It goes through design funnels, concept generation, sketching techniques, wire-framing & prototypes, the best zones for “tap” targets on mobile devices, how to handle tablets, and much, much more.

Of all the chapters, this was the topic I was least aware of, so I found it hugely beneficial to see the process and how to plan for the end user and their experience of my sites.


First of all, the book is awesome. You should definitely get it.

If you have gaps in your mobile Web information, want to brush up on your knowledge of designing for the web, or you’re starting from scratch, this book will be a great resource for you. I can’t wait to get my hands on a physical copy that I can go back and thumb through whenever I need a refresher.

Treat yourself or another web geek you know this Christmas, and grab The Mobile Book. You won’t be disappointed.

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