The library responsive design (RWD) websites presented here are the library sites from my the previous article listing higher education and library RWD sites. The screenshots (from iPhone/iPod-Touch & iPad) give an idea of how website content changes with a small screen size. You can see the same thing on a larger screen by going to the site and changing the window size to see how the page responds.

Click the library name to go the library site; click the screenshot to see it in larger size.

Grand Valley State Univ (Michigan)

Canton Public Library (Michigan)

Regent College (Vancouver, BC, Canada)

Hendrix College (Arkansas)

George Mason Univ Law College (Virginia)

Univ Iowa

The two library sites below are strongly integrated with their institutional websites, and the first screen on the iPhone is completely taken up by institutional information. So for the iPhone screenshot, I’ve added the second screen, that has library information.

Dakota State Univ (South Dakota)

Durham Univ (UK)

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey

In January I wrote articles about the wonderful way Amazon’s Kindle app works on non-Kindle devices to allow cross-platform reading of Kindle eBooks. Using the Kindle apps on other devices (iPad and iPhone have been especially popular) has advantages over using the Kindle device, such as easy highlighting and note-taking. It was ironic. then, that it was just a week after I wrote that news came out that Apple would be putting restrictions on the use of the Kindle app on the the iPad and iPhone. While it’s not clear how much this will restrict use of the app on Apple devices, it seems likely to diminish their use.

With a relatively small number of titles available on the iBookStore, Apple is not in the business of providing content, unlike Amazon, with its KindleStore, and Google, with the Google eBookStore. So, with so few books of  its own, it’s surprising that Apple is putting restrictions on Kindle app users, instead of encouraging them — Hey, Apple, it seems like Amazon is helping you out!

Kindle apps on the iPad have been immensely popular, as described in my previous article, and the reaction to the new Apple policy has been strongly negative. A tweet by @fienen on Feb 15 highlights this (boldface added):

The content wars continue. Apple may have played the wrong card here. Big time. Official: Apple locks down the Kindle app http://ow.ly/3WVcP

On the same day as this tweet, an article in CNNMoney reported recent remarks by AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson, in which he called Amazon’s Kindle e-reader app the best business decision of the past decade, which made Amazon “‘the poster child’ of the cloud computing movement” — I don’t know about that, but I’d say the Kindle app certainly showed Amazon’s astuteness about the eBook cloud environment.

I think the future of eBooks is going to belong to the one who can bring together the devices & computers with the best collection of books. Right now, Apple has the devices and Amazon has the most books. So get with it, Apple — Amazon has opened up it’s books to play with your devices, so how about reciprocating?

What will Google do?

Looming over the spat between Apple and Amazon, of course, is … Google. As I said in concluding my previous article about the Kindle app ecosystem, “imagine the possibilities if Google puts their attention to doing something like this for their collection of public domain eBooks” — Bringing together the devices (Android tablets) and the books (Google eBookstore) in Google’s one big house.

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey

I don’t have a Kindle device, but I’ve recently started reading Kindle books with Kindle apps. The thing I like most about this is being able to capture highlights and notes as text. As I discuss below, Amazon doesn’t quite have this process fully perfected, but it works well enough that it gives an exciting glimpse of the future of eBooks.

Several other eReading platforms support highlighting and note-making, so I suspect doing it on Kindle doesn’t seem like such an outstanding feature to many users. But I think many are not aware that all highlighted text and notes are synced and put on a web page in the user’s account, where it can be copy/pasted anywhere — Voila! Instant saving of highlighted text and notes!

Most of my reading is non-fiction, and I’ve done a lot of hand-annotating — underlining, highlighting and note-taking — in my print books over the years, so capturing these kinds of annotations in an ebook seems like a great advance. Having all highlighted text instantly copied on to a web page, from where it can be pasted as text to another application, is especially valuable.

The screenshots here show the steps in reading, annotating, and capturing text. I usually read on the iPod Touch, with the Kindle app, which works fine for highlighting, as shown in the screenshot. The app also allows the addition of notes (indicated by the little blue box after “1855), but I usually save note-taking for the desktop app.

I’ve used the Kindle app for PC (shown below) and for Mac. These both support highlighting and more flexible note-taking than the iTouch app, so I do most of my note-writing here. Both the PC and Mac Kindle apps are notable for their elegant, smooth interfaces, with an option for two-column display and flowing text wrap — Maybe a foreshadowing of HTML 5 tricks that will soon become common in eReaders.

And, finally (below) the account-specific “Your Highlights” page at kindle.amazon.com that brings all highlights and notes together, and allows them to be copy/pasted to other applications.

As I mentioned above, the process I describe above is not quite perfected by Amazon, and that may be why they haven’t publicized it more — The process does work as described, but the syncing is not always timely. Sometimes it takes a day or two for annotations done on one of the apps to appear on the “Your Highlights” web page.

Another, more basic, hurdle in the “text capture” process, that Amazon doesn’t say much about, is the whole question of copyright implications — How much text can be highlighted and copied from a book? I haven’t found any general statement about this from Amazon. I’ve heard/seen that it’s generally 10% of the book’s text, but I’ve also heard that some publishers allow up to 40%. Before the process can be widely publicized and encouraged, Amazon and publishers will have to be more up-front about this.

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey

A big part of Steve Jobs magical mobile revolution has been the advent of the App, which greatly simplifies using a small mobile-device screen. As popular as iPhone Apps have been, though, iPhone’s Safari browser has also been a great success, showing the practicality of using a Web browser on a small screen.

Safari has shined even more on the larger-screened iPad. With its interface being so similar to the iPhone, it seemed when it first came out that Apps would play the same role on the iPad as on the iPhone. But with its larger screen, people quickly realized that the Safari browser does a fine job in presenting information, and that separate Apps are not nearly as important as on the iPhone. And of course the Safari browser has the great advantage that it lives on The Web.

So the trend, going from iPhone to iPad, is the growing importance of Safari on Apple devices. But this goes well beyond Apple, because Safari is just one of the large class of “WebKit” browsers. I became aware of the importance of this with news in the last month that the Kindle and the Blackberry are both getting WebKit browsers (Thanks to Mike Cane for giving a shout about the significance of this).

So, what’s a WebKit browser? WebKit is the “layout engine” for Safari, Google Chrome, and almost all mobile browsers (Android, Blackberry, Kindle et al). It’s especially good for mobile browsers because of its nimble code and advanced HTML capabilities. And WebKit is open-source, which is why it’s being used on such a wide range of platforms, beyond Apple.

Learning about WebKit has given me a whole new way of seeing the mobile Web world — The varied and interesting implications are many …

  • The iPad’s big splash – Desktop computing is fading fast, and mobile is booming. Until the iPad came out in April, “mobile” meant cellphones and other hand-held devices. Now with the iPad, the definition becomes fuzzy, and will get fuzzier, with smaller versions of the iPad rumored to be in the offing, and Android tablets with a variety of screen sizes certain to come out soon. The whole mobile tribe, from cellphones on up, are certain to have WebKit browsers.
  • Apple’s influence spreads – The first implementation of WebKit on a widely-used browser was when Apple developed Safari and made WebKit as a “fork,” or variation, of the existing Unix rendering engine KHTML. Although Apple made WebKit open-source, and usable by anyone, it’s come to be strongly identified with Apple. So isn’t it interesting that now WebKit, which is widely thought of as an Apple standard, is being used in the browsers of Google and Amazon — Is there any precedent for that? For anything that’s Apple-flavored being adopted by Google and Amazon, which may be Apple’s two biggest competitors in the near future?
  • Apple’s Unix roots are deep, going back to Unix based Mac OS X. WebKit deepens these roots, having been developed by Apple from the Unix KHTML layout engine.
  • WebKit & eBooksWebKit is used for many eReaders, because they have so much in common with web browser technologies, so it will become increasingly important for libraries as the use of eBooks grows.
  • Firefox is fading – Instead of WebKit, Firefox is built on the Gecko layout engine, which was designed for the bulky Windows environment, and it shows its age on mobile systems with more compact code.
  • The growing irrelevance of Microsoft – With very little mobile or tablet presence, their claims to be embracing cloud computing (which is closely connected to mobile computing) seem doubtful — Especially since none of their current or planned browsers are WebKit-based.

I’m often surprised in reading commentaries about the iPad and its competitors that WebKit isn’t mentioned — John Martellaro touched upon the sense I have of “seeing the leaves but missing the branches” in a recent such commentary — He talks about “the advanced technologies that Apple has been nursing along for a decade (unnoticed)” [boldface added] — YES! Exactly! — People see the effects of Apple magic but don’t notice the things that create the magic (Martellaro himself doesn’t mention WebKit!).

So for me, seeing things through the lens of WebKit has been like “pulling back the curtain” on current developments and power struggles in the Web world — In reading anything about competition among Google, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, and various eBook competitors, it’s invaluable to think about how WebKit affects things. I think it’s likely that as things progress (and especially when Android tablets start coming out in the next few months), WebKit awareness will certainly grow fast.

I use a Windows desktop at work and a Mac desktop at home. I’ve been a confirmed FireFox user on both of them for several years. But in doing research for this article, I’ve switched to WebKit browsers — Safari on the Mac and Google Chrome on Windows. I like both of them a lot, especially Chrome — I’ll certainly be staying with it.

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey

In a previous article, I cited librarian Michelle Kraft’s article, Stop the App Madness, in which she cautioned librarians against the temptation to create mobile-device apps for library sources — As she said, libraries just don’t have the staff or resources to go down that road. I thought about Michelle’s good advice as I wrote in the just-published article iPad App Fatigue & “The Boring Old Web”. As I write there, people are finding that the Safari browser is so good on the iPad that it’s not necessary to create separate apps. And that’s good news for libraries. It means we can focus attention on our websites instead of diverting attention to make separate apps for the iPhone, Android, and other mobile devices.

Because the iPad may not need separate apps for optimal use doesn’t mean that we can go on making web pages just like always — In the long term, I think the significance of the iPad will be that it has broadened the use of the multitouch interface, that first came into common usage on the iPhone and iPod Touch. With the iPad, it comes closer to being used on laptops and desktops. Dan Frakes has a good description of importance of multitouch:

As those who’ve used Safari on an iPhone or iPod touch can attest, there’s something deeply intuitive about touchscreen browsing: tapping links and buttons with your fingertip, sliding your finger up and down the screen to scroll, pinching or tapping to zoom…it just feels so much more natural than using a mouse or a trackpad to interact indirectly with a Web page

For us in libraries, then, I think we need to be learning to use the multitouch interface, so that we can optimize our websites to make them touch-friendly. And, of course, we’re not alone in this — Everyone else is recognizing that we’re on the verge of the touch revolution, so we’ll have plenty of help.

I’m not suggesting that librarians go out and buy an iPad right now. But I would suggest, as I have before, that librarians consider getting an iPod Touch — It’s a good, economical, way to learn to use a mobile interface, and it’s also a good introduction to the multitouch interface. And with the lavish media attention that the iPad has gotten, I suspect that the demand for iTouch may weaken, and it might be just the time to find a bargain!

Related articles:

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey

It’s well-known that narrow columns are easier to read. So it’s surprising that I can find almost nothing (except this) that connects that observation with the unexpected success of the iPhone as a reading device.

Newspapers and magazines, of course, almost always have narrow columns. With the iPhone, books do also — Could that be one of the reasons for the iPhone’s success?

Here are examples of reading on an iPhone, from a Stanza eBook and the NY Times:

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey

As detailed in the Apple launch announcements for the iPhone in 2007 and the iPad in 2010, Steve Jobs described both as being “magical and revolutionary.” He makes this claim for the iPhone, he says, primarily for two reasons — multitouch and mobile Internet use. Notably, he doesn’t state any specific revolutionary features of the iPad.

I would suggest that history will judge the iPhone as a more revolutionary device than the iPad, for the reasons given by Jobs — multitouch and mobile web browsing — and also for other reasons not mentioned by him. The most interesting of these is that the iPhone has shown the practical appeal of reading on a handheld mobile web device. For anyone who’s had the experience of reading on an iPhone, this seems commonplace by now, but for the non-iPhone using world, as for everyone before the iPhone, it comes as a surprise that sustained reading on such a small screen could be appealing. But there it is, a runaway success.

The success of the iPhone for eReading stands out especially because it seems to have been completely unforeseen by Steve Jobs at the time the iPhone was launched, and still apparently little-noticed for some time even after it was launched — Jobs, of course, made his famous observation that “people don’t read anymore” a year after the iPhone launch, as the iPhone was in fact becoming a popular eReading device. Something apparently changed Steve’s mind, between early 2008, when he made that statement, and the iPad’s birth two years later — The iPad launch announcement, in contrast to the one for the iPhone, mentions eBook reading prominently, and the iPad has been seen widely by commentators as an excellent eReading device.

I suspect that one of the most significant parts of the iPhone story, as seen by future historians, is that its unexpected success as an eReader turned the fertile mind of Steve Jobs to reading. Where Jobs and Apple will go with this idea is an open, and fascinating, question. With the iPad, Apple seems set to continue on the road to becoming a media company, with iBooks being an important part of the App Store. And it all might have started on the iPhone.

This discussion sheds new light on the frequently stated reaction to the iPad that it’s “nothing but a large iPod Touch” — Indeed, Yes — If you accept the idea that it’s the iPhone/iTouch that’s truly the revolutionary device, then, of course, it’s natural that the next deviceful step for Apple is to apply the same innovative ideas to a larger device — The iPad.

Acknowledgements – Discussions of the ideas in this article with my son Brian Rumsey have been invaluable. Thanks, Brian, for helping me to clarify my thoughts :-)

Other articles on eReading and mobile devices:

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey

Hardin MD Gallery pages’ simple design makes them intrinsically mobile-friendly. They work especially well on an iPhone because they fit well on the screen, as described below. To go to Hardin MD Mobile click logo:

In the rest of this article, I’ll discuss and illustrate why Hardin MD Galleries are especially usable on an iPhone. I’ll also discuss the process of mobilizing Hardin MD, describe which galleries are most usable on a mobile device now, and talk some about future development.

We’ve been pleased to realize that Hardin MD galleries work especially well on an iPhone because most images  have a similar aspect-ratio to the iPhone — 1:1.5 — which is relatively unusual for a computer screen, though very common in photography (4″x6″ snapshots).

We didn’t plan it that way, but it happens that most of the images in Hardin MD are about 720 x 480 pixels (the same 1:1.5 aspect ratio as the iPhone), in landscape orientation. So, as shown in the screenshots at left, Hardin MD images fit nicely on the iPhone screen in landscape view.

Most of the individual disease/condition galleries in HMD are fairly usable on a mobile device as they are, although the navigational thumbnail images for some are rather poor. The weakest aspect of mobile-usability is the broad-grouping super-gallery thumbnail directories — Thumbnails work well for individual galleries of pictures on a particular disease condition, but they don’t work so well for super-galleries, which have several different diseases. So we’ll be making scrolling-list menus, which work well on an iPhone, for the broad topic groups, as we work on improving the mobile navigation of the individual galleries within each group. For now, the first broad-group menu is public-domain, free-to-copy galleries.

Other super-galleries, for which we’ll make mobile menus in the future are:

Besides working to improve the mobile-accessibility of super-galleries, we’ll also be trying out a second type of mobile access for individual galleries, by putting pictures in a WordPress blog — WordPress (with a wide array of smart plugins) does a wonderful job in displaying pictures on blog pages, especially because it’s so smart in handling portrait and landscape orientation. The nice fit of Hardin MD images on an iPhone screen, described above for existing galleries, also works well in a WordPress blog. Our first one is here >> Measles pictures from CDC

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey

This fun giant-size image for Choosing Cereal made the rounds of Twitter a couple of months ago, and I thought then that it would be a good demo of Seadragon, the interesting infinite-zooming viewer that was Microsoft’s first iPhone app. I’ve dragged my feet until now, but with the attention that Seadragon has gotten in recent articles, here it is …

The original cereal image site that was linked on Twitter is here. I’ve uploaded this at the Seadragon site, which makes it into a deep-zoomable image. It works fine on a desktop, but it’s especially cool on an iPhone/iTouch — Try it HERE. (The Seadragon iPhone app isn’t needed for this but it’s worth looking at because it has several good demos — Download it here). The image below shows only the top of the Choosing Cereal file — The Seadragon zoomable version has the whole thing.

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey

In December 2006, Luke Wroblewski blogged a good discussion about The Complexity of Simplicity in user-interface design. Interestingly (in light of his recent articles discussed below), in the 2006 article he doesn’t mention MOBILE design. What makes this especially interesting is that the iPhone, with its game-changing elegant mobile interface, exploded on the scene just a month after Wroblewski’s article, in Jan, 2007. So … Jump forward to an excerpt from Wroblewski’s Nov 2009 article Mobile First, in which he first proposed the idea that all web pages should be designed first for a small screen, before considering their appearance on a large screen:

Mobile forces you to focus – Mobile devices require software development teams to focus on only the most important data and actions in an application. There simply isn’t room in a 320 by 480 pixel screen for extraneous, unnecessary elements. You have to prioritize. So when a team designs mobile first, the end result is an experience focused on the key tasks users want to accomplish without the extraneous detours and general interface debris that litter today’s desktop-accessed Web sites.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *

The link in the quote above goes to Wroblewski’s Aug 2009 article Mobile App User Experience, which has the image at left, a great “picture-is-worth-a-thousand-words” view of the words in the quote — Cut the crap and give the user the important part, what they’re looking for! Taken together, I think, the quote and the picture tell the story of what’s been happening in the world of interface design since the introduction of the iPhone –Though I’m sure this is something of an oversimplification, I think that the simple user interface that seemed so hard to attain on a large screen has now become easier with the forced constraint of the small screen.

Wroblewski’s ideas resonate with what I’ve been writing about simple mobile design for library sites. Although he’s not talking specifically about libraries, his ideas are certainly right on-target for us in libraries. The AP News example he chooses for the picture especially catches my attention, as I’ve been watching news sites to see how they’re adjusting to the mobile upheaval — I think they carry lessons for libraries, as we go through the same thing.

Note in the picture here that we in libraries have an advantage over news sources and other dotcom sites — We don’t have the extra baggage of advertising — This in itself would seem to make mobile friendly design a Great Opportunity for Libraries. The obstacle for libraries seems to be the longstanding culture of overly complicated design for our resources, especially OPACs. The good news here is that with mobile design there really is no alternative to simple design — As Wroblewski says, the size of the screen just doesn’t allow extra fluff. The constraints of mobile design, I think, level the field — This makes it easier for us in libraries to create sites as simple and easy to use as the big dotcoms. As I’ve written, there are encouraging signs that we’re doing this.

Less is more …

I better wrap this article up — It’s turning into a classic case of controlled serendipity … Just as I thought I was about finished, the “less is more” thought came into my mind, as a pithy epigram of mobile user design. Alas, I Googled, and found this, another striking quote, from Darja Isaksson (www.inuse.se), maybe I’ll expand more later, but for now, a good way to end:

So … Does the iPhone live up to its hype? [article title] … boldface added by me …
The results? Stunning. The iPhone has introduced a new interaction paradigm to the world, in an uncompromising way that proves that “less is more” when it comes to true user experience.

Related articles:

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey