Mobile-friendly SharePoint Intranets? Save Your Money, for now.

November 8, 2014

Nearly every one of our customers asks us ‘Will this work on the tablet and my phone?’ Well guess, what, the answer is always ‘Yes, but it will not be optimized for those platforms’. That seems to satisfy most.

Familiar scenario? 🙂

This is actually a giant can of worms and a lot of details are glossed over. In this article, I am going to take the customer’s side and give a few pointers to ask your SharePoint services provider.

Will it Run on the Tablet and The Phone? – The answer is always YES. However, the provider needs to elaborate on the user experience that you can expect on the Tablet and the Phone.  Here is a fact, SharePoint 2010 is actually not exactly mobile friendly. Even 2013 OOTB struggles in this area. The screens go off the page, the pagination bars sometimes fall under the scroll bars, and depending on the implementation, there are entire sections simply missing in Mobile mode. So most implementers (including RefineCo), will simply disable the whole mobile experience and let the tablet render the whole site.  That means, your tablet is simulating a desktop browser. What that really means is you will likely not have a nice experience on a Tablet. And as for the Mobile side of things, its pretty much a write off.

Does SharePoint 2013 Support Mobile? – You may also be a customer who is already running SharePoint 2010 and may have heard that if you upgrade,  SharePoint will support Mobile. This is actually a false statement. SharePoint 2013 OUT-OF-BOX does have partial mobile support (except for the administrative interface). But lets face it, who wants to use SharePoint OOB? Nearly everyone customizes and uses third party web-parts, which will likely reduce, if not entirely eliminate mobile support. So, unless you upgrade your application and explicitly add mobile support along with a responsive web design architecture, you are very likely out of luck.

Can I Add Mobile Support To My SharePoint 2010? – If you are like me, you want to get the maximum value out of almost everything you invest in. To that, if you invested, say $180K 18 months ago on a brand new SharePoint intranet, and now you brought in a few tablets for your employees to play with, and noticed some ‘glitches’ and performance problems, read on.

This is a very difficult question. To make matters worse, there really is no business-friendly way to answer it. There are a few factors you need to consider:

  1. SharePoint 2010 does not support responsive design –  This means you will not be able to use the commonly-accepted CSS tricks to get your mobile / tablet site up. Instead you need a very talented jQuery developer to force the table-soup into a mobile state for different screen sizes. This is truly a complex issue.
  2. Your site design has to be mobile friendly –  If you are running a customized SharPoint 2010 intranet with some complex interfaces, then you automatically don’t qualify. Consider something as simple as a mouse-over. This is not supported on a tablet or a phone! So, if your current interface relies on mouse overs for any function, you need Mobile UX help!
  3. Your SharePoint architecture must be optimized to be fast – The rule of thumb for page load is ~ < 2s. If your site loads > 2s, there are likely factors affecting the speed: one of the biggest common issues with SharePoint is the over-use of WebParts, each of which establishes its own context and individually contacts the DB. The other one is a busy UI. Both of these architecture issues will make for a very poor and sluggish mobile experience. We have a tonne of technical documentation oh how you can fix the speed issue with SharePoint, as this is a large part of our business.

What is Mobile vs. Tablet Support? – Yes, it is very common for those to be mixed up. Then throw in “Responsive” and the confusion is on. Mobile means it works on a phone; Tablet is the obvious one; and Responsive means that the interface will switch between three distinctive types of devices: Mobile, Tablet and PC. These are the most common to date. (Unless Apple unveils the long-anticipated iWatch in 2014).  SharePoint 2010/2013 works very well on the PC, works OK on a tablet, and its basically nearly unusable on a Phone. Overall, SharePoint (all versions) is not a responsive platform when it comes out of box.

Is 2013 better than 2010 for Tablet support? – Yes. Although you have to be careful. SharePoint 2010 uses Tables for all HTML layout, making tablet support extremely difficult; SharePoint 2013 fixes some this by going to a DIV-based Table-less design. However, as soon as the page goes into Edit mode, then whole Table system is back. Also, a lot of the Admin interface still uses Tables in the back-end. The tables do not always scale on the tablet, leaving the user with half a page displaying, and the other half wrapped somewhere off-screen. Furthermore, if you plan on downloading Telerik or Bamboo controls, you may quickly run into issues on either platform.

Should I bother adding Tablet support to my Intranet? – This is the big question! The answer is, not yet. However, this is where the world is going.  Again, some factors to consider:

  • Few people have tablets at work
  • Tablets don’t plug into networks, making them WIFI-only platform and most companies out there have very strict WIFI policies
  • Most users still use a workstation to get their job done as Tablets don’t even run Word or Excel.
  • Most tablets cannot be locked down on a GPO level (Group Policy for AD)
  • Most of your application infrastructure and existing applications do not support Tablets. (Most of these big corporate enterprise systems still need IE8, let alone Tablets!).

So your best bet is to position yourself for added support by selecting SharePoint 2013, and perhaps design Tablet-friendly sections of the site like certain Dashboards and Reports for your execs to quickly access.

Finally, here is the acid test: do the ROI calculation and try and prove to an exec that a 25% increase in development cost to add tablet support is justified. I tried to factor in the cost saving measures for us to have an ROI story to tell around tablets, but I was not successful. If you come up with a formula, we will gladly assist you in building a beautiful, user-friendly and responsive intranet.