Coping with Small Display Size of Smartphones

As I discussed in my previous post Challenges facing Smartphone as a SaaS Client , the small display size of smartphones is the second obstacle that has to be addressed before smartphones can become viable SaaS clients.. There is a vast amount of information out there that is generated by applications and web sites of all types. Presenting this information on a small screen is challenging to say the least, especially when users are becoming accustomed to increasingly large displays and having a lot of information at their fingertips. It is ironic that the very mobility of smartphones which has made them ubiquitous and desirable is what prevents their display size to be increased.

So the question is how will software applications display large amounts of information on small displays?

I believe that eventually hardware will evolve to provide some elegant solutions to this problem. These hardware solutions could include detachable displays that users can plug their smartphones when they need a large screen. They could also include LCD projectors that are built into smartphones that allow users to view the display on a large surface. However such hardware solutions are still a few years away from development and mass commercialization.

Currently most applications and web sites have taken the simple way out by presenting information on smartphone the same way as they do on full screen devices. The information is displayed as if the screen is of full size and it is assumed that either the user will scroll around and find what they are looking for, or will use the zoom in/out capabilities available on many devices to digest the information presented. Both these approaches are not user friendly and most people will live with them only because they have no other choice. There are also a good number of applications that are designed especially for mobile devices where the information presented fits the display size. However these applications only cover a subset of devices and are expensive to develop and support.

The approach that will work best is to redo the user interface of the application and provide information in a format that fits the size of the display. This is expensive, especially when several different devices have to be supported. In general, text information is amenable to this as is exemplified by many e-readers that enable only the amount of information that fits the device to be presented. It is not practical when graphical information of forms have to be presented. For forms and graphical information the only recourse is to program the application to make the information fit the device, which is what some companies are doing at considerable cost.

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