SharePoint 2013's new mobile features are definitely a step up from the mobile features in previous versions. In fact, one could argue that mobile devices get better support than ever before, with better mobile browser support; new features such as device channels, push notifications and location services; and Office Web Apps integration. But there's still much room for improvement.
Following are seven areas in which I believe that mobile in SharePoint still falls a little short:
1. Mobile Views Have Limited Functionality
While the out-of-the-box mobile views may be sufficient for browsing documents, they are not very useful for other types of content. Joe Herres, VP of H3 Solutions, breaks down the shortfalls of the mobile views:
Navigation can be confusing since you either get just the web parts (content) that are added to the home page, or have to go to site contents where you will be presented with every list/library on the site (including Asset Libraries and other lists that should not be shown to the user). Calendar lists are very difficult to use as you have to enter dates by hand to view items and the display is very basic.”
In addition, Joe also says that lists such as discussions and surveys are not supported at all, and you will get a message saying as much.
2. Contemporary View is Not Easily Extensible
The Contemporary view is very nice and an improvement over the classic view; however, it is not easily extensible. Todd Baginski, VP of SharePoint and Mobility at Canviz Consulting, says it's not something he would recommend trying either.
It would be nice to be able to extend the contemporary view to enhance the menus and have a framework you could use to author SharePoint custom solutions that would extend the capabilities (that) the Contemporary view offers."
So basically you get what you get with the Contemporary view, with not much of an opportunity to improve it to meet your needs.
3. Office 365 Mobile Limitations
Office 365 is more limiting than on premises installations of SharePoint. It only gives you two device channels out of the box -- one for desktop browser views of the site, and another for all mobile devices. In addition, it is not possible to create any additional device channels for Office 365 at this time.
What this means is that you cannot create a device channel to target each of the different phones and tablets out there. This will make it difficult if not impossible to create an optimized browser experience for all the different mobile devices by using device channels alone. You could, however, combine device channels with responsive design. Says Baginski:
In an O365 scenario where you only have two device channels to work with, if you need to target many different devices you might combine the two approaches and use a responsive design for the mobile device channel and a static design for the default channel.”
4. Difficulty in Creating Responsive Design SharePoint Sites
Responsive web design seems to be the latest craze right now, but it’s important to understand that SharePoint is not responsive by default. It takes quite a bit of effort to make a SharePoint site responsive.
In addition, responsive design is really only feasible for Publishing sites, according to Herres, which are content consumption only. It becomes much more complicated when trying incorporate responsive design into collaboration sites and features. Says Herres:
Someone who is familiar with master page design and is very good with CSS could do a simple responsive publishing site in fairly short order, but it gets complicated quickly as you try to add advanced widgets or any kind of interactivity to the site.”
5. Poor Integration Between Responsive Design and Image Renditions
A great new feature in SharePoint 2013 is the ability to use image renditions to display differently sized versions of an image on different pages in a publishing site, based on the same source image. The manner in which page authors specify which image rendition to use is very manual, however, and does not work well with websites that are built using responsive design.
Baginski directed me to a great article by Waldek Mastykarz, where he discusses in detail how his company had to build a custom solution to alleviate this issue. In short, based on mappings that must be predefined, their solution will automatically choose which image rendition should be delivered to the visitor of the website based on the screen resolution.
Regarding the fact that you must write custom code or obtain a third party solution to provide this level of integration between responsive design and image renditions, “It would be really nice to have this baked into the product,” says Baginski.
6. First Impressions by Office 365 Users Are Not the Best
Don’t underestimate the importance of first impressions. Office 365 users are often times using SharePoint for the very first time, and their initial impression may be poor. Herres explains:
Because of the mobile ‘App’ culture, users will go to their respective app stores and look for an O365 app. What they will find is the Newsfeed app which will only give them access to MySite content. If they go to the site on their phones, they will get the Contemporary view which could turn them off quickly with its limited interface.”
This lack of functionality in the browser view along with the lack of apps provided by Microsoft will likely lead to mobile savvy users looking to third parties to provide real mobile functionality in Office 365.
7. Lack of Mobile Support for Custom Apps
While Microsoft seems to be pushing the app model as a platform for development in SharePoint 2013, they really don't provide any means to make those solutions mobile. According to Herres:
Their answer is to use their web based APIs to write client applications for iOS/Android/Windows Phone. For organizations wanting to build web-based mobile solutions, they will have to write them from scratch as well unless they turn to a third party.”
This is a big area of concern in my opinion as the number of mobile users continues to grow exponentially while the number of desktop users is dwindling. There needs to be an easy way for SharePoint app developers to create mobile-friendly versions of their apps.
The Future is Bright
This article was not meant to knock or criticize all the mobile capabilities of SharePoint. With the latest release I think that the mobile experience is much better than ever before. And while it's not impossible to build a SharePoint mobile site or SharePoint apps that accommodate every device, there could be easier ways to accomplish this. Hopefully Microsoft will build this functionality into future releases.
Editor's Note: Check out Joel Oleson's SharePoint and Office 365: Enterprise Mobile Evolution
Image courtesy of Oleksiy Mark (Shutterstock)