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Mobile access gathers momentum

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Apps and mobile versions of websites are springing up everywhere in the scholarly publishing industry. Publishers and library management system suppliers reveal some of the latest trends. Interviews by Rebecca Pool and Sian Harris

Dan Pollock, director, and Tom Scott, head of platform, Nature.com

The trial of the nature.com iPhone app finished last year, and researchers have since been using their iPhones to subscribe to many of our journals as well as search PubMed. However, [in April 2010], Apple also released the iPad, which challenged just about all the publishers out there.

We tackled this by quickly adding an extra stream to our development plans. We had largely built our iPhone operating system in-house, and behind the scenes we could reuse some of what we had already developed for the iPhone, in the iPad. And so, by the end of January this year, we released an iPad version of the application.

Around the same time, we also introduced a low-cost, mobile-access-only subscription option on our iPhone app. People generally spend five to 10 dollars at the Apple apps store so we wanted to make sure our commercial models were consistent with that. We designed this version for personal reading only so that, while you still get the content, you can’t do things like copy and paste text. We’ve had tens of thousands of downloads.

We still see the iPhone and iPad as being dominant but Android is in second place and growing very, very quickly. Librarian partners also tell us researchers are now keen to access Nature content using a site-wide licence, so we are currently developing a mobile-optimised version of our website. This will be the same as the desktop website but rearranged as there is less room on the device display. HTML5 [which provides mobile device users with richer web applications] is getting richer by the day and browser supports are no longer patchy.

So this leads to a discussion of whether to use an app or HTML5 browser-based stuff. Is HTML5 support perfect yet? No. Could we get to a point where HTML will displace apps? Maybe. Mobile access is still only three to five per cent of our overall traffic though, and we’re still in an ‘experiment and wait and see’ situation. In two or three years’ time this will be clearer.

Jenni Rankin, marketing manager, Annual Reviews

Back in the 1990s, we saw a shift from researchers reading content in print to reading it online, and now we’re seeing a similar shift from the desktop and laptop to the mobile device. We’ve seen mobile traffic growing exponentially. It’s still a very small slice of total traffic, but it’s definitely growing.

The iPhone was the first device that really started this change, and this time last year it was the top device. Now, though, we’re seeing other devices used in greater numbers; Android is there, the Blackberry is re‑vamping itself and even the iPad is used a lot to access content.

We’ve been working with our technology partner, Atypon, on the mobile publishing platform, ‘Literatum for Mobile’ and have just launched our second build. Content is our bread and butter so we’ve taken a broad approach, making content the priority.

The content from all our publications is available, not just what has been published in, say, the last five years. We also include the full text. On asking one focus group of students if they would actually read a 25-page review article on a phone, they said ‘yes, absolutely’. We’ve also learned a very important lesson on authentication. We had originally developed a pairing app in which the mobile device user could request a pairing code and then be authenticated through his or her institution. However, the researcher had to be using an authenticated computer in the library, and the librarians got back to us saying: ‘Why are you making this so hard? Researchers want to have mobile access without any barriers.’

So now we have totally removed the native app and developed automatic and seamless pairing. As long as your phone is logged onto an authenticated WiFi campus or institution, you will be automatically authenticated for six months so then you can be off-campus, at home, in Starbucks and still access our content from a mobile.

We are also working with partners and experimenting in the app world but we’re going to wait and see what will happen with the evolution of different devices. Ten months ago we had a focus group in which only a few people had smartphones. Now every single person in our focus groups has either an iPad or an Android smartphone.

Matt Hawkins, CEO, SirsiDynix

Librarian customers have noted that 70 per cent or more of their public interface traffic originates from outside the physical library with the iPhone and Android devices being commonly used. This traffic is significant and is key to why we continue to develop our software, in-house, with the mobile user in mind.

Through our BookMyne iPhone – and soon Android – mobile app, researchers can access full library content including e-books and other e-resources via their mobile devices. Users can search the library catalogue, place holds on materials of interest, and save content relevant to their subject area to customised lists for future reference. Future planned releases will broaden mobile platform support and we will also integrate RSS, Twitter and Facebook feeds.

Meanwhile, a second mobile app for library staff, PocketCirc, offers circulation functions such as check-out, check-in, inventory and patron registration. The County of Los Angeles Public Library also uses it to scan opening day collections for new libraries as they arrive, and uploads transactions to update receipt status of thousands of items quickly.

Our key products are also compatible with mobile browsers so end-users can access library resources from any platform. Mobile access via a browser duplicates desktop browser access, whereas mobile application-based access focuses on the most commonly-performed activities including keyword searching, and payment of fines and fees.

The chief benefit of developing our apps in-house has been the depth of integration we’ve achieved with our underlying software. But [the fact that] cross platform code management for mobile platforms is still at a toddler stage brings challenges.

While, increasingly, there are tool sets allowing a single code base to be used for multiple mobile platforms, these tools are far from inclusive. Because of this we prioritise mobile development by mobile platform popularity. We also handle as much intelligence as possible at the web services or underlying layers so coding for the specific mobile platform remains at a minimum.

In the foreseeable future, we believe the ubiquitous nature of mobile devices, twinned with the huge growth in availability and usage of tablet computers, will make mobile the main mechanism for end-user access to library resources. We also anticipate increased use of mobile devices, particularly tablets for staff use in areas that are inherently “mobile”. This will include shelf work, holds management, management of closed stacks and storage areas, provision of reference services and more.

Graham McCann, head of product management and innovation and Jackie King, digital and emarketing manager at IOP Publishing

 

Mobile devices are an exciting opportunity for IOP Publishing (IOP) to provide our readers with flexible access to our content in the way that best suits them. We have at our fingertips an abundance of new ways to deliver content and mobile platforms are part of that mix. Our apps are free to download, as part of our commitment to readers to provide access to content.

IOPscience express is an iPhone application that has been designed to keep users up to date with the latest articles to appear in IOP-hosted journals. The app allows users to view and download articles that have been published in over 40 IOP-hosted journals over the last two years. Users can also search for relevant articles, and e-mail information about selected articles to themselves or a colleague to enable access at a later date.

The Physicsworld.com newsflash app allows users to download the latest news articles from physicsworld.com directly to their iPhone or iPod Touch. Users can quickly access headline news stories, which are displayed in an easy-to-read format. This is in addition to the physicsworld.com content, which can also be accessed and viewed on mobile devices in the usual way.

There is also the Physics World app that has been developed more recently, and is an iPad and dual-mode Android app for the digital version of Physics World magazine.

Not only are our apps additional channels through which readers can discover our content, but they also allow users to engage with that content in more direct and personal ways. We welcome this viral element of content sharing; it’s at the very heart of social media. We believe that our apps are helping researchers to advance their work and help in the dissemination of scientific research.

Over the next year we plan to strengthen our mobile presence by delivering a web version of IOPscience optimised for mobile browsers. We will soon be launching a mobile-friendly view of the full text of journal articles as enhanced HTML.

One of the challenges is matching the pace of our development with the pace of development in the consumer market. The mobile market is still in formation and it is very tempting to look at every new device as a requirement for a new interface to our content. We need to be sure that any development we do meets our customers’ real needs.

It is already clear from the number of iPads in the research community that the demand is there and it will continue to grow. Information needs to be streamed flexibly onto any devices that users find useful for their research. With the launch of web OS like Chrome and Jolicloud, laptops are becoming mobile devices. That functionality, ease of access and interoperability will be an expectation from our communities. Desktops are also being influenced by mobile operating systems. We see the mobile device currently as a leader in a movement that will reach across workflows and devices.

Simon Day, product manager, OCLC

OCLC currently offers mobile access to library catalogue data via the WorldCat database and our library resources discovery solution WorldCat Local. Over the next year we plan to expand mobile access to include licensed electronic content from multiple providers that is included in our WorldCat Local central index. OCLC offers a mobile-optimised website that can be used on a wide range of mobile devices rather than device-specific apps.

Both mobile and desktop solutions are included in the subscription price for WorldCat Local. Licensed content requiring authentication is not yet included in our mobile solution. We shall be adding that over the coming year. Currently, searching of licensed databases/e-content is included only in our desktop offering. Also, social features such as creation and sharing of item lists are not yet included in our mobile offering.

OCLC’s aim is to provide access to library resources at the user’s point of need, regardless of device or location. Industry and commercial user research shows more and more activity is moving to smaller screens. Providing researchers with the ability to access data quickly and, more importantly, giving researchers the tools to re-access that data later from a primary or desktop environment, is key to success.

The WorldCat Local Mobile website has been built on JQueryMobile, which provides graceful degradation for low-capability feature phones and high-end touch functionality for smartphones. The latest edition of JQueryMobile provides better support for Blackberry OS5, which will open the door to library resources to even more users worldwide.

Without a platform such as JQueryMobile, organisations must make a choice regarding which users they will serve or spend significant resources building for and testing on multiple device platforms. Building a web application on a generalised platform provides flexibility and saves development resources for features that enhance the user experience rather than workarounds for specific devices. Some compromises must be made when choosing a web application as opposed to device-specific development, but those compromises are diminishing as HTML5 gains support among device manufacturers and web browsers. With HTML5, organisations can provide one website that enhances appropriately based on the device used to access it.

Mobile devices are already used extensively in research for data gathering as well as access. Commercial and industry research shows the difficulty users have in manipulating data within a mobile context; however, larger devices that are still “mobile” are easing this difficulty, which will certainly lead to more research occurring on mobiles. Tablets can provide a better interface to visualisations and cloud storage allowing users to take action when the moment is ripe and then make better use of their data, notes, etc. later when they are on a more powerful machine. Research does not occur in one place or on one device. The ability to access data quickly at the spur of the moment and then take action on that data later will drive much of the mobile website development in the future.

Michael Habib, product manager, Scopus

We decided to develop mobile apps because we saw increased usage of our content from mobile devices and in surveys users told us that they would use apps if they were available. An app is different from a mobile version of the website because it is embedded in the device and, for now, Scopus is focusing on apps.

We launched a Scopus iPhone app at the end of last year for existing subscribers. We also released SciVerse applications for desktops to allow users to download e-reader apps. Since then we have been expanding to other platforms and have released apps for Android and Blackberry devices.

We have also started to create paid apps for ScienceDirect and Scopus. These are for individuals rather than institutional subscribers. Elsevier is also launching paid versions of Scopus and ScienceDirect for Android. In addition, there is a ScienceDirect app for the iPad. This is very similar to the iPhone app but has been specifically optimised for the larger screen.

All the content is in the apps but there is less functionality than on the desktop. One of the first things we needed to think about in developing the apps was which functionality to offer on mobile devices. Mobile access is different from desktop access and keeping up to date with new content is particularly valuable for users.

One of the biggest challenges is serving the different platforms. How things like maths equations are displayed and how seamless this is depends on the device. Each platform also handles alerting slightly differently. We are working with a third-party vendor, Service2Media. This company has an innovative platform that allows us to develop the app just once and then simply tweak it for the different platforms. This approach should also help us to scale to different platforms in the future.

Standards for mobile apps to work together will also make a lot of difference in the future. Currently, managing access across different platforms is a challenge. Many of the standards are designed for desktops. The primary way to authenticate users from institutional subscribers is to go to Scopus or ScienceDirect and set up an account. For the paid version (for individual subscribers), users pay for a subscription and then get the app. In both cases the log in information is stored in the app so you don’t need to log in again.

With the Scopus app at the moment our main goal is to get it out on the range of different mobile platforms. Once this is done we will work on improving the functionality. We would like to have better integration with the desktop version. For example, at the moment alerts for searches done using the mobile apps don’t show up on a user’s desktop.

I think we’re going to start to see more task-specific apps that will take advantage of mobile. For example, we could see apps to help people manage information at conferences. This is already happening in other sectors. At many high-tech conferences, for example, users can get apps that are pre-loaded with the conference programmes. This is not happening in the scholarly publishing industry yet.

Alan Dyck, product manager at Innovative Interfaces

Innovative Interfaces is a provider of automation tools for libraries and we already provide mobile catalogue access for all kinds of libraries, both public and academic. However, from the third quarter of this year we will also offer a mobile enhancement for our discovery platform, Encore. While the technology that runs the mobile enhancement is identical to the existing platform, we have reduced the functionality and focused on what is important for the mobile user.

We made speed a priority – the mobile user does not expect a slow experience – but we also re-built the user interface pretty much from scratch. Our in-house team has experience in app development and is familiar with Encore, so we were able to produce a functional mobile version within six weeks.

The fundamental user interface challenge was to provide the functionality libraries expect from the discovery platform on such a small screen. For example, the desktop version has a big column of results with additional tools on the side but on the mobile device you will see the most important elements, your results, and then you can ‘fold out’ a side bar for other information.

We do have an apps development strategy, but believe by providing a mobile web-based interface upfront we will reach the largest possible population first. Mobile device use is growing phenomenally, but is still a very small fraction of the library visitor. If you look a library’s server, monthly mobile traffic is still only around two to three per cent so if we had said, ‘right, we’re just going to focus on the iPhone user’, then we’d only reach a fraction of that three per cent.

However, once we have reached the three per cent as best we can, we will start developing apps that will be more focused and have a little more functionality in that native app environment. We’re looking at the location-based benefits of application as well as [programs] that tie into hardware.

From what I see, the library user wants to have more of what he or she does embedded in a mobile device. For example, the library membership card can be on the phone so you scan that instead of a paper card, and why not pick a book off the shelf and check it out with your phone. We are seeing people doing more and more mobile self-service, and this is something apps could be providing.

Jay Flynn, vice president of web strategy, John Wiley and Sons

Our STMS apps include a growing library of journal- and society-specific apps (six available now with at least 12 more in development), books, and calculators. We offer Essential Evidence Plus with a dedicated mobile site, and have licensed portions of this content for the Unbound Medicine app, Evidence Central. Wiley Online Library has also been tested extensively on mobile devices, including the iPad 2.

Wiley is experimenting with several development options. We have licensed content to developers like MedHand and Unbound Medicine, have worked with developers like YUDU Media and Handmark to plan and develop custom apps, and have also utilised our own internal development teams.

Currently, the overwhelming majority of our Wiley Online Library mobile traffic comes from Apple devices, with the iPad representing almost 45 per cent of mobile traffic and the iPhone/iPod touch making up almost 35 per cent. The remaining 20 per cent of mobile traffic comes primarily from Android devices, with a small amount of usage from BlackBerry devices. Mobile usage currently represents less than 10 per cent of overall traffic. In addition to Wiley Online Library, there has been explosive growth in the e-book channel due to the proliferation of better, more affordable smartphones, e-book readers, and tablets.

We are working on optimising Wiley Online Library for mobile access. As part of that process, we are researching the ways users want to use our content on mobile devices in order to build the “right” solution. We believe that desktop and mobile users have different needs, and that mobile optimisation includes optimising the available features and designing new ones that best fit the form factor.

Publishing is such a quick-moving business that it’s hard to even imagine what’s around the corner sometimes – and libraries and research institutions look and behave differently now than they did just a few years ago. I think we’ll see a proliferation of smaller-scale devices in research labs, and more workflow tools like our current set of Current Protocols mobile apps, which provide step-by-step instructions about laboratory methods. Also, I would imagine that the native features of some mobile devices such as cameras, GPS and text input will be combined with the “traditional” article to allow for real-time annotation, commenting, revision/expansion of published materials, and broader communication with the scholarly community.

We’re evolving from being a provider of content in static form to being a provider of dynamic, new types of products and services our customers use to do their jobs, learn what they need to know, and live their lives. We are increasingly focused on the ways our customers interact with our products and services and using our flair for innovation and creativity to come up with new ways to activate our content in workflow solutions that help them achieve their goals.