Have you ever counted how many ways there are to offer a mobile version of your website? If you have a lot of time on your hands, you might want to use it to start compiling a list and while you’re at it, you might also want to establish which solutions actually work and which fail miserably.
Recently I have made a “mobile app” of/for the WP TIPS website. I am using quotes on purpose as it actually is not really an app, it is just made to look like one. As a matter of fact it is just a bookmark to a mobile site with a pretty icon. But as such it is still pretty cool and it works on many smartphones like iPhone, Android and even Blackberry and ones like Nokia and SonyEricsson.
Once you have added the API-key into the settings, you can start configuring your mobile site. There are some video tutorials available, but most are catered towards use of the Joomla version which Weever was originally created for.
You can choose to add content from Pages or Posts. For WP TIPS I have chosen to show all Posts and next to that Posts from the specific categories. I have tried to show the About Page too, but that returned an error all the time and I got tired of trying so skipped that altogether. [Edit January 12: I actually tried publishing the About Page again and added two screenshots of yet another failed attempt.]
Furthermore you can add:
- Welcome – this is a bit weird as it only grabs content from an existing Page. The word would suggest that it would be some kind of “welcome to my app”-page, but the only way to accomplish that would be to publish a page and not show it on the desktop version of your site. Overly complicated so I skipped it.
- Social Media – only Facebook and Twitter (and Identi.ca whatever that is) at time of writing; Google+ integration was promised 2 months ago and hopefully will make it into the app sometime soon.
- Video – YouTube or Vimeo
- Photos – Foursquare venue photos, Flickr feed or photo sets, Picasa albums or Facebook albums
- Events – Google Calendar or Facebook Events
- Forms – WuFoo forms
As you can see from the above list, it’s great if you have content on aforementioned sites, but if you have not, your app’s resources quickly can become exhausted.
Whether you like it or not, each Weever Apps web app comes with a Social Sharing screen. This page is also branded with the Weever Apps logo which clicks through to their own mobile demo site. It also shows a QR Code of which the function is a miracle to me as you cannot interact with it in any way.
Then there are 3 social media to share with, Twitter, Facebook and Google+, but unfortunately all of them open in a browser instead of in their respective apps. There is also an email button that sends nothing more than the link to the web app.
Once you have added all the content to your web app, you will need to upload some humongously big PNG files that will be used as app loading screen. Make sure to keep those images as small as possible in image size as otherwise it will defeat the purpose. A handy tip not mentioned anywhere in the plugin is to upload the 144x144px image as an image with a nice contrasting background color and rounded corners. That image namely will become your app’s icon!
And then comes the styling of your app to sort of fit the desktop version of your site. Before you start with styling, please keep in mind that it will be a pretty frustrating task and don’t expect too much of it. To work on the styling they give you a link to your mobile app which you can open from your desktop computer and they advise you to use “inspect element” within a webkit browser. Even so the different classes and ids used with this plugin are confusing at best and I can only wish you good luck with that!
They say that the Weever web app will be auto-detected by all smart phones. I only have my Google Nexus S and mobile detection is definitely not working, so to overcome this problem I decided to implement the fantastic mobile detection script written by Andy Moore. The script gives you the option to choose the behavior in eight different scenarios and generates the code for you to add to the header.php of your theme.
To promote your new web app, Weever suggests the use of the QR Code they generate for you. However this QR Code is less than 100px high and wide and only 72dpi, so I don’t see how to add the code to “Business cards, flyers and more! Be creative!” will ever work. Also because the detection does not always work, I would suggest to take the URL of the app, shorten it and then run that shortlink through a QR Code Generator like for example GOQR.ME; this gives you the flexibility of choosing the size, so you’re not stuck with something you will not be able to use in printed media.
Next to the free version, Weever Apps also has a premium version and a white label version. The premium version costs USD 10 per month (or USD 99 per year) and basically offers map functionality and the ability to host the app from your own URL. I am sure it is very nice to be able to have an online interactive map coming with the app, especially for businesses in the hospitality industry, but I think it would have been nicer to offer a one-time license fee instead of returning fee. For the white label version Weever suggests that you can resell the app to your clients, but for USD 40 per month (or USD 199 per year) per website I honestly don’t see that happening.
After having played around with Weever Apps for a bit, I kind of like what it does even though you have to work within many restrictions. There is plenty of room for improvement in various aspects of this plugin and apart from the tricky choice of name (calling it something it definitely is not), it’s a handy tool to give your desktop site a simple mobile version.
What I probably like best is that although a frustrating process, you can sort of style it like the desktop version of your website. That is something that is definitely not possible with each and every mobile plugin out there.
What I also like is that people can save it as an “app” onto their smartphones and although it has hardly anything to do with a real app, it is still pretty cool that people eventually will have your logo somewhere on their phone, giving them the possibility to go straight to the mobile version of your site.
The third thing I like about it is that basically because it merely is a link to a website where the web app is running, it looks the same for all the mobile devices you choose to make it available for and that obviously saves you from some massive headaches.
In the end, you will have to choose for yourself whether Weever Apps is a viable alternative to a mobile solution for you. Let us know in the comments!