Today we are releasing apps for both iPhone and Droid that, simply, wrap our mobile website. If we have a mobile website, you may be asking why we felt we needed to release apps that basically do the same thing. The answer is both simple and complicated.
Let’s look at our overall strategy for a moment. Given the museum’s community-minded mission, we aim to spend our time developing content in a sustainable and accessible manner. This means closely adhering to web standards and writing code and designing interfaces that play nicely across all platforms. So, the first iteration of our Mobile Web launch was simple—hit www.brooklynmuseum.org on a mobile device and get redirected to a version of the site that renders well on (many) small screens. Rather than create an app, we followed our strategy and developed so we didn’t need one, but everything can change quickly when you put people in the mix…
In order to launch our mobile site, I hosted a mobile meetup at Target First Saturday. The purpose of the meetup was to get visitors started using Gallery Tag! and gain some feedback on the new game, but I was stunned at what happened as I met with folks. Nine times out of ten, the owners of the devices had confused looks when I said, “open your web browser and go to www.brooklynmuseum.org.” I was floored at how much confusion was created just simply getting people to open their mobile browser. Once we’d get through that, the idea of bookmarking it to the home screen was even more foreign. At almost every turn, visitors were expecting an app. Seeing these exchanges, I started to think about accessibility again. Of course, there’s the nuts and bolts web accessibility approach that we’ve been very committed to, but there are also accessibility issues around natural usage behavior. In this case, it was clear to me that people on app phones wanted apps, not necessarily mobile websites and by not giving them an app, we were actually making it more difficult for them to find our content.
And, here we are. We hired Dave Wilkinson to build apps for iPhone and Droid. If you don’t know Dave, we knew him from his work on the Indicommons app and, besides that, he’s Flickr famous. The apps are designed to simply wrap our existing mobile web site, which makes the endeavor sustainable for us. We can continue to add content to the mobile site, but the apps themselves can stay static and this means we can avoid future development costs. While we are not expecting downloads by the gazillons, we are hoping that this makes our mobile content accessible via as many avenues as possible.