There is no shortage of proof that online business is migrating to mobile platforms. Just as millions of consumers have turned to the Web rather than the mall to do much of their shopping, the same consumers are now switching from the desktop to the mobile platform.
According to a survey released by online marketplace eBay, the company's U.S. mobile sales during the holiday jumped 134 per cent compared to the same period last year; and worldwide, its mobile sales grew 166 per cent.
Perhaps not surprisingly, one of the most popular purchases on eBay was Apple's iPad. Indeed, next week's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas - the industry's premier annual products showcase - is expected to be dominated by tablets and other mobile devices.
But while small and medium-sized business owners are quickly recognizing the need for mobile versions of their Web sites, there is less clarity about the tools available for those who want to build a mobile site.
As with regular Web sites, there are plenty of firms that will- for a fee - build an entire mobile Web site. In Canada, companies such as Snaptech and 9th Sphere offer such services tailored to mobile devices. Some companies also offer bundled services, matching regular and mobile Web site designs.
For businesses looking to develop a mobile site in-house, there are plenty of tools available to simplify the task. Mobify offers a design studio tool that helps users create mobile sites and build online stores. The company also offers software that lets users integrate ads into their mobile sites, and recently introduced support for iPads and other tablets.
Other companies also offer do-it-yourself mobile Web site design. MobiSiteGalore for example, provides tools designed for users with little or no technical experience. Like Mobify, MobiSiteGalore focuses on e-commerce and offers services that let users embed ads in their sites.
There are also many Web sites and online tools that allow users to simulate the mobile experience. TestiPhone, for example, lets users see what their Web site will look like on an iPhone screen.
MobiForge, a large online community of mobile developers, carries an extensive guide to such tools. It's also one of the best all-round resources for mobile Web development. The site contains myriad guides on everything from location-based smart phone services to mobile Web development standards, as well as a significant online forum.
One of the most important factors in mobile Web design is consistency with mobile Web standards. The World Wide Web Consortium maintains a set of guidelines for mobile Web design. Essentially, the guidelines are a set of best practices covering everything from colour selection to image sizes. Small and medium-sized business owners will want to adhere to many of these guidelines in order to ensure their mobile site doesn't end up looking like a poorly translated version of their regular site.
Special to The Globe and Mail