Drupal Support for Mobile Devices

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Drupal Support for Mobile Devices

As web browsing on mobile devices is increasing in frequency and ease of use, the need for mobile optimized websites is pressing. The Drupal community has picked up on this need and have developed modules specific to the display of mobile websites.

There is a Drupal module called "Mobile" that simply strips the CSS from your website to display it on a mobile size screen. It is one step forward in making it easier for users to read your mobile content, but I would not recommend this method. In my post from March 2007, "Mobile Times Call For Mobile Measures," I mentioned the importance of "mobilizing" instead of "miniaturizing":

"These two terms are explained fully in Little Springs Design's article Mobilize, Don't Miniaturize. Miniaturizing treats the mobile environment and technology as a subset of the desktop environment. Current content and images are reformatted and resized for mobile screens. Mobilizing,on the other hand, precisely targets mobile user needs, making [the] best possible use of technology. It takes into consideration why the user is even looking at this content on a mobile device in the first place."

Mobile users motives are often more focused than the breadth of Desktop user motives. It is key to hone in on the motives of your mobile users and display website content specifically to them. Drupal's contributed module, Mobile Tools, makes it easier to do just that.

Tom Deryckere, the Mobile Tools developer, lists the intent of the module on his blog post titled, "The secret behind the Mobile Tools module":

  1. Provide a way for detecting visitors viewing your site with a mobile device. You can redirect them to a mobile site or give them a message that a mobile site exists
  2. Give mobile users a mobile variant of their user role. This means that you can set specific permissions for the mobile user and control how your site behaves
  3. Help in doing small things: setting number of blogposts in the frontpage, change the default frontpage, ....
  4. Help in switching themes for the mobile user. Mobile Tools allows theme switching, not only based on mobile device, but also on the type of device: Android, iphone, blackberry, ...

While hooking into the Browscap module, Mobile Tools allows you to do a browser check and do one of three things:

  1. Redirect the user to your mobile site (at a different URL)
  2. Display an option to switch over to the mobile URL
  3. Switch to a mobile theme

The option for switching to a specific mobile theme seems most valuable, as Mobile Tools allows you to specify a different theme for specific device: iPhone, iPod, Android, Opera Mini, Blackberry

My favorite part of the Mobile Tools module is the ability to limit permissions for mobile users. Mobile users are automatically assigned the "mobile" role through browser detection. The menu then can be limited to mobile users by utilizing the Menu per Role module.

Another module to keep any eye out for is the Siruna module for mobile display. The module is in Beta right now, but once launched, the module's goals are to adapt pre-set Drupal themes to be mobile friendly. It does not strip the CSS, but adapts/simplifies the website content and/or styles for mobile users.

The development of Mobile Tools and the upcoming Siruna module is promising. Considering the popularity of mobile devices and mobile web browing, I expect the Drupal community to pick up on the need for optimizing websites for mobile even more. I look forward to the possibilities that Drupal will support for users to get the most out of mobile browsing.

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