The Mobile Landscape and SharePoint

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For many, the mobile landscape is fast becoming the ONLY landscape to do business in. As products and services circle the globe, we are leaving our offices for the road “more” traveled. Especially in a sales-oriented business environment, we find that the end users of many of the SharePoint solutions we create for our clients are out in the field, needing to access everything in real time and with few complications. This fact is driving businesses to look towards either upgrading to SharePoint 2010 in some cases to reap of the benefits of cross-browser compatibility, or in other cases going through the exercise of modifying their existing portals for mobile audiences.
Either way, especially for customized SharePoint portals, the need to regression test critical components within mobile devices and to simplify for usability is paramount. Depending on the complexity of the solution, you’ll find that the obvious challenge to enabling SharePoint on mobile devices is rendering documents on Apple devices. It can be a hit or miss experience, as some Microsoft Word documents open in web browsers while others do not. And most Excel files will not open at all. There are a plethora of third party apps to alleviate this challenge, such as the iWork Suite and Documents-To-Go, which are available for a nominal fee.

Beyond the Apple device-specific challenges, there are SharePoint web part features that also experience some functional and cosmetic issues on mobile devices such as the absence of scroll bars for large content areas and the movement of navigational elements due to limited screen real estate. The movement of various screen elements is remedied by both SharePoint 2010’s cross-browser compatibility and some custom coding where warranted to force resizing. An interesting find here though is that the solution for the missing scroll bars is simple: scroll with two fingers in parallel, within the frame. This is actually documented in the iPad user guide, which is bookmarked in Safari on iPad; but who reads those things.
There are of course many more usability pluses such as ergonomic drop downs, radio buttons, “tap” zoom functionality and check boxes that we all have grown to love on mobile devices. In the mobile universe, “tap” is the new “click”, and a touch UI that can optimize IE based sites and portals rendered through a mobile browser is a huge draw.
While reactively addressing mobile implications is sometimes unavoidable, the nugget to pull away is that inserting proactive planning measures into the consultative approach to portal and solution development is the way to go. Driving mobile device discussions during opportunity exploration and documenting specifics during requirements gathering for new solutions paves the way for mobile to become integrated into the must-haves as opposed to the nice-to-haves.

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