Mobile Considerations: A Preliminary Checklist for “Going Mobile”


The use of mobile devices has been growing for years and continues to evolve with the increasing choice of devices (such as smartphones and tablets), operating systems (such as iOS and Android), and improvements in wireless technology (such as 3G and 4G telephony).1 Like the general public, readers of scientific and scholarly publications are increasingly using their mobile devices to consume Internet content. To engage their audiences fully, editors and publishers of scholarly and scientific content need to have mobile strategies. With each passing day, a higher percentage of Internet consumption occurs on mobile devices, so providing a mobile solution now will help you to serve your growing device-using audience better. Fortunately, there are many options for providing readers with a superior mobile reading experience. Some of the options include mobile-optimized Web sites, sites that use a responsive-design framework, and apps that run on iOS, Android, and other operating systems. This article provides a preliminary checklist of issues to consider when you are creating a mobile strategy for your publication and readers.

Online Mobile Optimization

Versus Responsive Design Every publisher should start by making sure that its primary Web properties (such as a journal Web site) can be displayed in an inviting, readable way by mobile devices. Publishers have generally had two approaches to providing a clean mobile version: a mobile-optimized site, a separate site or subdomain that has content specifically formatted for optimal display on a mobile device, such as a smartphone or small tablet; or responsive design,2 in which a Web site identifies the type of device and browser used by the reader and then displays content in an optimal format for that specific combination. Each approach has benefits.

For publishers starting from scratch on a new Web-site design project, it is highly recommended to start with a responsivedesign framework. With a responsive design, content is omitted or reformatted to create a good reader experience on the basis of a number of different screen sizes and screen orientations, from small-screen smartphones to tablets to laptops to new high-definition, large-screen desktop monitors and television sets. For an example of a responsive-design Web site, visit the Boston Globe at and try to adjust the size of your browser window. You’ll notice that the display changes as the screen size is changed. Responsive design projects can take a long time and be expensive but ultimately be more cost effective than developing a software app for Apple’s iOS or for Google’s Android platform. Publishers that use a responsive design site may not feel the need to develop apps, because their Web properties already provide a “device-agnostic” mobile reading experience.

Full Web-site design projects can be expensive and time consuming, and a mobile-optimized version might be less expensive and faster to move to market. Most mobile users “look up and keep up”—quick search to answer brief questions and stay up on the latest published content—instead of doing “heavy reading” (reading articles from start to finish). A mobile-optimized site is typically designed for a smartphone screen, such as an Apple iPhone or a Samsung Galaxy Nexus (Android). For a good example of a science journal’s mobile-optimized site, visit PNAS at and again try to resize the browser window to see how the contents are streamlined for a smallscreen display.

Mobile-optimized sites have three major benefits compared with responsive design. First, it is typically much less expensive to launch a mobile Web site than to undertake a full site redesign. Second, it is usually much faster to launch a mobileoptimized site. If a publisher is not planning to undertake a full site redesign in the near future and does not currently have a responsive design, launching an inexpensive mobile site quickly is an excellent stop-gap solution. Finally, mobile optimization is superior to responsive design for display on smartphones. With responsive design, the full site information is sent to the mobile device, and such technologies as JavaScript and cascading style sheets determine which part of the information to display and how to display it. In contrast, with a mobile-optimized site, only data intended for mobile-device display are sent to the mobile device; as a result, page-load times can be much shorter, and the result is a better experience for smartphone users.

A publisher’s hosting service determines whether to display the full version or the mobile-optimized version of a site. HighWire Press, a leading ePublishing platform at Stanford University partnering with independent scholarly publishers and societies, offers both options. For HighWire-hosted sites with a mobile- optimized version, the user is redirected to a mobile-optimized version if a device is recognized as an iOS iPhone or an Android telephone, whereas the full version is served if the device is recognized as an iOS iPad; users always have the option to view the full site from their mobile devices, that is, to bypass the redirect. Other hosting services may have different approaches to serving mobile-optimized content; check with your hosting provider to determine what mobile-optimized or responsive-design options are available for your publication.

To App or Not To App

The next step is to determine whether an app is desirable for your market. Mobile-device users spend far more time in using apps than in using Web browsers to access the Internet,3 so many publishers believe that the best way to engage with their mobile readers is via apps. An app might be important for a publisher looking to enhance engagement with readers, differentiate itself in the marketplace, or close a gap with the competition (“keeping up with the Joneses”). A society-based journal may see an app as an important way to engage with mobile–device-using society members. Because of the added costs of app programming, there are far more apps in production for medical and science research publications than for the social sciences or humanities.

Apple iOS Versus Google Android

Although Apple owns the larger market share for mobile devices in the United States, Android has greater market share internationally and is growing more rapidly worldwide. A society serving a US-centric market may be content with an iOS app for the time being, whereas a society looking for broad international appeal might be better served by having apps for both iOS and Android platforms. Of course, added cost and overhead are required for maintaining an app for different platforms. For publishers serving markets of interest to advertisers, the costs for apps can be offset by advertising, sponsorship arrangements, and in-app sales. (Note that Apple policy demands a percentage of all in-app sales.)

What’s the Brand?

A publisher of multiple journals or a publisher of books needs to determine the primary brand for its app. Is it a specific journal? Is it a society, in which case the app might have to contain all its published properties? The American Association for Cancer Research has a single multi-journal iOS app ( Combining multiple publications into a single app usually results in a product that is far more cost effective than launching a separate app for each publication. Regardless, some journals are “name brands” and deserve their own branded apps.

App Functionality

The final question in this preliminary list of considerations is, what is the primary use for your app? As mentioned before, enhanced reader engagement is one of the benefits of an app. A good app can fulfill the “look up and keep up” use that is often served by mobile-optimized sites but can also offer a strong benefit for the “heavy-reading” use. In fact, there are different approaches for serving readers who favor apps.

One type of app tends to mirror the print version of a publication closely and allows cover-to-cover browsing and reading (and viewing of advertising in the same context as the print version, which is important for offsetting the costs of the app). A good example of such a page-turning kind of app can be found with Neurology at the Apple App Store:

Another type of app that supports the “heavy-reading” use case behaves slightly more like a Web site when used with an Internet connection, allowing robust searching and following of reference links while supporting targeted advertising, high-resolution figures and tables, and full-issue download for offline reading. A good example of this kind of app can be found with the Journal of Clinical Oncology at


Considering the rapid growth in the mobile-device marketplace, a publisher needs to have a mobile strategy or risk alienating a large and growing portion of its audience. Fortunately, there are many options for publishers that want to pursue a mobile strategy, including the launch of mobile-optimized sites, redesign of full Web sites using responsive design to accommodate mobile devices, and development of apps for article-based reading and issue-based reading. The world is “going mobile”, and publishers need to budget accordingly to keep ahead of their readers.


  1. “Mobile Web Watch 2012—White paper on mobile usage by Accenture, available online at (last accessed 6 June 2013).
  2. (last According to accessed 10 June 2013), “responsive web design is a way of making a single website that works effectively on both desktop browsers and the myriad of mobile devices on the market.”
  3. (last accessed 10 June 2013).