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The Mobile Ecosystem - Mobile Application Medium Types

There are several mediums through which mobile devices can deliver information and content to users. In Mobile Design and Development (O'Reilly Media, 2009), Brian Fling identifies six different mobile medium types: SMS, mobile websites, mobile web widgets, mobile web applications, native applications, and games.

Although this guide focuses on the mobile web, programs should also be familiar with each of the following options:

  • Short Message Service (SMS) Most phone users probably know SMS as "texting" - sending and receiving short messages through through mobile phones. With SMS, a user can submit a single keyword to a five-digit code and then receive helpful information in return. Although SMS seems like it a useful tool for the legal aid community, there are some major limitations to the medium. SMS return messages are limited to 160 characters, so programs could only provide a limited amount of information to users. In addition, SMS can be a pricey service, both for message recipients and providers. 
  • Mobile Web Applications are another medium available to developers. As their name suggests, mobile web applications provide a more application-like experience through users' mobile web browsers. Most of us are probably familiar with desktop web applications like GMail, Basecamp, and Facebook. Developers are now applying the same ideas behind these applications -- using XHTML, CSS, and Javascript to build robust web-based apps -- in the mobile context.
  • Native Mobile Applications: Mobile web applications shouldn't be confused with native mobile applications. Native applications are built for specific devices, such as the iPhone or Android handsets. These applications have better exposure to the application's specific hardware and software, so they can more easily tap into the majority of devices features, including cameras and location systems. Native apps also work on and offline, and can pull needed data from the web quickly. The downside to native applications is that they only work on the devices for which they were designed. ILAO is currently taking the lead with legal aid app development, having developed and launched several apps for both iOS and Android.