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BBC News launches new responsive mobile website Fabric

BBC News launches new responsive mobile website

28th Mar // 2012

The BBC News website is one of my most common destinations on the Internet, particularly on my phone. The site has had a mobile version for some time but when I checked this morning I noticed that they had launched a new one.

The BBC are very good at implementing new media well, so analysing any developments is always worthwhile. After spending a little time looking at how it all fits together I can see their approach to this is quite interesting for three reasons.

1. They still separate out the mobile and main websites

As before, the mobile version of their news site (http://m.bbc.co.uk/news) is still completely separate to the main one (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/). The mobile version has a unique design, structure (and codebase) to the ‘full fat’ website that you see if you visit through a desktop computer.

They could have achieved a similar effect through adaptive web design techniques whereby the same codebase is used for all devices, maintaining a design that's closer to the main site and having the features and structure adjust depending on the device that you’re viewing it on.  However, given the size and complexity of their ‘full fat’ website their approach makes sense.

For one, implementing it through adaptive web design techniques would mean retrospectively adjusting their main website - which would be a huge undertaking.

What's more, the mobile version of the site is heavily cut down to just display the latest news stories, leaving out secondary features (like share prices etc).  Adaptive methods would mean that these would still have been downloaded (although not displayed) for mobile devices - increasing wasted bandwidth and download time.

Separating the mobile and ‘full fat’ website versions makes sense for users.  It increases the site’s speed and reduces data usage - which may mobile phone providers limit.  It makes sense for the BBC too - when visitor numbers are in the millions, reducing any unnecessary data transfer will have a huge effect on reducing the hosting costs. This is especially important given the number of people using mobile devices to access the Internet on the rise.

As before, the BBC News site doesn’t automatically redirect you to the mobile version by detecting the device you’re using. If you go directly to the ‘full fat’ News website on your smartphone then it lets you view it - and this is what Google points you to when searching for BBC News stories.

There is automatic device/browser detection in place on the main BBC homepage for smart phones (tablets stick with the main version). This directs you to the main mobile version of their main page and the news link from there points to the mobile version of the News site as well.

The news site does have a page explaining how to switch to the mobile version if you want to (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/10628994). Following their instructions will take you to the main page rather than the mobile version of the page you were previously viewing - you have to navigate back to what you were looking at.

2. The mobile website uses responsive web design techniques

Although the approach as a whole is not to use adaptive techniques (whereby features are added, removed or adjusted as appropriate to a particular device) they are using responsive design techniques.

Responsive websites adjust presentation of information and features that are in place adjust to suit the screen.  Although the same features and information are displayed - they are tailored to the screen that you are viewing them on.

You can see this in practice if you visit the mobile website (http://m.bbc.co.uk/news) on a ‘normal’ desktop computer and then resize the browser width - the image sizes and navigation adjusts based on the space available.

3. The new mobile website is very similar to the BBC News Android app.

The new mobile News website is much closer to the News Android app that the BBC provides. That is simply allowing you to view the news stories (and not much else) in a similar layout. The iPhone and iPad apps are more sophisticated though.

Overall, I think the new BBC news mobile site is a big improvement. The old one was looking quite dated and didn’t match with the rest of the BBC’s mobile content. It had been left behind by developments elsewhere on the BBC’s new media.

What do you think?

Penned by Arthur Wilson in Web Development Creative Design