Mobile Ecosystem


Operators are known by many different names, of which the most common are Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) or Carriers.  They are essentially what make the entre mobile ecosystem work.  They install the cellular towers, operate the cellular network and make services such as the internet available to mobile subscribers.

The operators role in the ecosystem is to create and maintain a specific set of wireless services over a reliable cellular network.


Operators operate wirelss networks.  Cellular technology is just radio that receives a signal from an antenna.  The type of radio and antenna determines the capability of the network and the services you can enable on it.


These are the phones or handsets that we use.  However, the future of devices that rely on wireless networks that dont actually make phonecalls is a expanding area.


A mobile’s primary duty is to provide access to the devices.  Platforms are the core programming language in wich all the software is written.  Like all platforms they are split into three categories:

  • Licensed (Java Micro Edition, Binary Runtime Environmentfor Wireless, Windows Mobile, LiMo)
  • Proprietary (Palm, Blackberry, iPhone)
  • Opensource (Android)

Operating Systems

Operating Systems often have core services or tool kits that enable applications to talk to talk to each other and share data or services.Some operating systems share the same names as the platforms on which they run.

Common operating systems are:

  • Symbian
  • Windows Mobile
  • Palm OS
  • Linux
  • Mac OSx
  • Android

Application Framework

The first layer a developer can access is the Application Framework or API released by one of the comapnies previously mentioned.  The first layer you have any control over is the choice of pplication framework.

Application Frameworks often run on top of the operating systems, sharing core services such as communications, messaging, gaphiocs, location, security, authentication and many others.

Application Frameworks include:

  • Java
  • S60
  • BREW
  • Flash Lite
  • Windows Mobile
  • Cocoa Touch
  • Android SDK
  • Web Runtimes
  • Webkit
  • The Web


Whilst the Application Frameworks are well standardised the devices on which they run are not.  If you think about creating a Application in the Java ME framework for one device you need to know:

  • which version of Java ME the device supports
  • the screen dimensions
  • the processor power
  • the graphics capabilities
  • the number of buttons it has
  • how the buttons are orientated

Multiply this by just a few handsets and a few markets you have thousands of variables!

One way developers are approaching this problem is to limit the number of platforms – e.g. build for Android or iPhone only. Alternatively, you can build for the web browser.  The one application that has a strict set of standards that are ubiquitous to all handsets regardless or platform, OS or framework.


Services include tasks such as accessing the Internet, sending a text message or being able to get a location.

Mobile Applications in Context

Utility Context

  • A utility based context is meant to address short, task based scenarios.  Information is meant to be presented in a minimal fashion, often using the least amount of user input as possible.  Examples include, calculator, weather forecast, stocks etc.  The user is only required to type in a small amount of information to enable a response.

Locale Context

  • The users goal is to find information relevant to their present location, and content should always be designed with this in mind.  When creating locale apps, it is important to ensure the users present location is always clearly identified, as well as a means to adding to it.

Productivity Application Context

  • Productivity Application Context is used for content and services that are heavily tasked base and meant to increase the users sense of efficiency.  The key to the success of such apps is to consider how the user will think out the task.  As you don’t have the screen real estate like a desktop you don’t have the opportunity to visually explain the process so one needs to prioritise tasks and give users a clear route to carrying these tasks out.

Immersive Full-Screen Applications

  • These applications are meant to consume the user’s focus, often doing so by filling the entire screen, and leaving no trace of the device user interface to distract the user.

iPhone Browser Screen Shot jpg png

You can take a screen shot from your iPhone by following these steps:

  1. Get what you want up on the screen
  2. press and hold down the Home button
  3. press the on/off button
  4. your screen will flash white and you’ll hear a camera click which confirms you’ve taken a shot.
  5. you can access the image in your photos as the latest image in the camera roll
  6. you can download or email the photo to get access

I did this to get a shot of the browser screen to help design mobile web apps.  You can download a jpg here or a png hereIphone Browser jpg.

Types of Mobile Application




  • They work on nearly all mobile devices
  • They’re useful for sending timely alerts to the user
  • They can be incorporated into any web or mobile application
  • They can be simple to set up and manage


  • They’re limited to 160 characters
  • They provide a limited text-based experience
  • They can be very expensive

Mobile Websites


  • They are easy to create maintain and publish
  • They can use all the same tools and techniques you may already use for desktop sites
  • Nearly all mobile devices can view mobile websites


  • They can be difficult to support across multiple devices
  • They offer users limited experiences
  • Most mobile websites are just desktop website reformatted for mobile
  • They can load pages slowly, due to network latency

Mobile Webwidgets


  • They are easy to create using HTML, CSS and JavaScript
  • They can be easy to deploy across multiple handsets
  • They offer an improved user experience and a richer design, tapping into device features and offline use


  • They typically require a compatible widget platform to be installed on the device
  • They can not run in any mobile web browser
  • They require learning additional proprietary, non-web-standard techniques

Mobile Web Applications


  • They are easy to create using HTML, CSS and JavaScript
  • They can be easy to deploy across multiple handsets
  • They offer an improved user experience and a richer design, tapping into device features and offline use
  • Content is accessible on any mobile web browser


  • The optimal experience may not be available on all handsets
  • The can be challenging to support across multiple mobile devices
  • They don’t always support native application features such as offline mode, location look-up, file system access, camera

Native Applications


  • They offer a best in-class user experience, offering a richer design, tapping into device features and offline use
  • They are relatively simple to develop for a single platform
  • You can charge for applications


  • They cannot be easily ported to other mobile phones
  • Developing testing, supporting multiple devices is incredibly expensive
  • They require certification and distribution from a third party that you have no control over
  • They require you to share revenue with the one or more third parties



  • The provide a simple and easy way to create an immersive experience
  • They can be ported to multiple devices relatively easily


  • They can be costly to develop as an original game title
  • They cannot be easily ported to the mobile web.


Understanding Mobile Context in Design

When starting out on a mobile design project, answering the following questions will help set the scene for you mobile applications.

  • Who are your users? What do you know about them? What tye of behaviour can you assume or predict?
  • What is Happening? What are the circumstances in which the will best absorb the content you intend to present?
  • When will they interact? When they are home and have large amounts of time? At work, when they have sort periods of focus?  During idle periods, while waiting for a train?
  • Where are they? Are they in a public space or a private space? Are they inside or outside? Is it day or is it night?
  • Why will they use your app? What value will they gain from your content or services in their present situation? How are they using mobile devices?  Are they held in the hand or in the pocket?  How are they holding it?  Open or closed? Portrait or Landscape?

Context in Mobile Design

Context is the most important concept in mobile.  But it can be confusing as there are number different definitions – all of which are important.

1. Providing Context

  • Mobile can be used to enhance the understanding of any given situation.  Mobile can be a channel that layers additional information to expand our understanding of something at any given time.  For example, a object or place can be geo-tagged with additional meta data, a barcode can explain more about a product or compare it’s price to another a store.

2. Environmental Context

  • The present locations or physical location will effect the way users will interact with their devices.  When you compare being in a car to being on a bus you can see distinct differences.  A car is private location enabling users to feel more comfortable carrying out more personal tasks but my circumstance of driving limits the amount of physical interaction with the device.  However, within the public environment of a bus you have no privacy and therefore the information I seek will me casual, but because I have no other tasks to perform I focus on using the device.

3. Medium’s context

  • Mobile may not be able to offer the depth of content a newspaper can but it can be up-to-date – which a newspaper cant.  One must recognise the strength of the medium.   A mobile phone is never more than a meter or two away from it’s owner.  Not only can receive up-to-date information it can be used to engage audiences in real time.  Imagine Governments being voted in by SMS with results being automatically counted and revealed live.  There were more votes cast for the TV 2009 show of American Idol (178m) than there were ballots collected for the 2008 US election.

4. Our present state of mind, or modal context

  • Driven by need, want or desire we make choices that attempt to accomplish goals – some big, some small.  It is this presence state of mind that becomes the influencer to what, when and where we perform tasks.  Our modal context is the driver of our actions or inaction.