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Where's that infernal mobile app?

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philip 41 months ago

"You should create a mobile app!"

We used to get that all the time. Multiple times a week. So I tasked Jack (aka BoyScout) with creating the mobile version of the site. It was his first assignment after starting here at PCPP.

Initially we thought we might go after multiple apps - iOS, Android, and eventually Windows Mobile. (Jack is a Windows Mobile guy, bless his heart. One of the few. So it was like one of those, "I feel for you" pats on the back to let him know I'd be ok with him investing time in building an app for that platform one day, even if I knew it'd never pay for itself dev-time-wise.) After a short while we figured that a mobile site would be a good placeholder while we started working on native apps.

A mobile site lets us hit all the platforms at the same time. It also lets us test out functionality and mobile UI much faster. Want to change something? No problem - don't resubmit to the App Store. Just push the new code live and see how it does.

One thing we realized was that putting the PCPartPicker functionality into a mobile interface was hard. PCPP is fundamentally a very data dense site. Before the UI rework with Phil Coffman, it was crazy dense. So fitting all that into a mobile interface was really challenging and required a lot of thinking on how to best present it. The current strategy is that once we feel like we have the mobile site where we want it, we'll be able to quickly go after native apps.

Though on native apps - a word of warning... We won't be providing an offline mode. The current compatibility databases in PCPP are quite large, so there's no reasonable way for us to ship that inside an app footprint. It's just not going to happen.

With the desktop site redesign, one of the thoughts was whether we wanted to go with a responsive design or not. To get things out faster, we opted to not go with responsive design. However, I think in the long run we do want that. It's just that it's a ton of work and testing. So there's the possibility that we may take the current design and make it responsive (down to mobile) while applying the usability lessons we learned from the mobile site. If we went that route, that might delay native apps a bit more.

The other thing is that we're a small team. Jack is tasked with mobile work, but also several other things. Some of the other things (not yet public) I think are significantly more important that native apps. I think when people see what those things are they'll agree. But what it means is that we have to look at mobile from a time perspective. I think the functionality competing with Jack's time is more valuable to end users than native apps.

Anyhow, that's a bit of what's going on with native mobile apps. It's not a clear answer, because, well, things can change every week.

Comments Sorted by:

Ksongs 2 Builds 4 points 41 months ago

Jack is a Windows Mobile guy, bless his heart. One of the few.

Thank god for Jack. As a Windows phone user I feel his struggle. I'm not to sad to hear there are no plans for a mobile app yet though , as I actually enjoy the desktop version of PCPP on a mobile device.

Xorex64 2 points 38 months ago

Yes. I use desktop site on ipad, i think its much easier to use than mobile version.

Charmin 1 point 38 months ago

I use the desktop site on my iphone 5 and now my iphone 6, and it way way easier than the mobile version.

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Xorex64 1 point 37 months ago


Skylord 1 point 40 months ago

I am too a fellow WP user :)

pielover2013 1 point 39 months ago

As am I and I was going to say I would be very sad If it wasnt coming to WP.

Skylord 1 point 39 months ago

It would be horrid

Charmin 1 point 38 months ago

I want to be a WP user, but alas I am forced into iOS. But I must say, CyanogenMod for Android is quite nice!

Ksongs 2 Builds 2 points 38 months ago

Yeah I switched over from IOS. I was originally planning to go android, but after walking into a windows store for giggles fell in love with the windows phone. I really love the live tiles, the way it lists app, Cortanas awesome and honestly bing search has really grown on me since I started using a WP. Of course though as I'm sure you've heard WP compared to IOS or android is seriously lacking in apps (this doesn't bother me since I hardly use apps, but I think its something they need to improve on) and less accessible than IOS.

I honestly can't picture WP ever getting a larger foot hold in the phone market, but I really do like it and until they officially stop support I'm probably going to keep using one. The windows 10 phone is looking promising though http://www.theverge.com/2016/2/3/10911594/vaio-windows-phone-biz-announced just gotta wait untill HTC makes one with forward facing speakers...

BoyScout staff 21 Builds 2 points 38 months ago
rhali8 2 Builds 1 point 37 months ago

I am a windows phone user too. Lumia 630 ;)

Scotty0709 3 points 41 months ago

Personally think you've done a fantastic job on the mobile site thus far. Have been coming here for quite some time now (most of which on a mobile device) and I never once felt the need to 'Switch to Full Version'.

Find it quite simple to navigate, put a part list together and filter part search results on a mobile device.

Thefan630 1 Build 2 points 41 months ago

I actually use the mobile site from time to time (It's just not handy to browse PCPP outside of a desktop enviroment because I generally have many tabs I have to switch quickly on my researches). Pretty good actually. But as everyone knows and agrees, a native app is more agile and fast. And think of the possibilities! Integrating with amazon check-out and stuffs eh.

FH100 1 point 41 months ago

The current compatibility databases in PCPP are quite large

Just have to ask, how large?

philip staff submitter 10 Builds 1 point 41 months ago

Big. :)

FH100 1 point 41 months ago

Big as in "we need to buy the largest HDD on the site to store it" or "you need to get the large storage version of the phone to be able to store them"?

Or is it some super secret number that you'd need to kill me if you told me? :P

philip staff submitter 10 Builds 3 points 41 months ago

Our production database is well over 100GB.

FH100 1 point 41 months ago

Nice to know. Thanks!

piemancoder 1 point 41 months ago

Well, what else would you buy a 128gb iPhone for?

philip staff submitter 10 Builds 2 points 41 months ago

Currently 136GB, so even that's a no-go.

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philip staff submitter 10 Builds 3 points 41 months ago

There are a couple reasons why we won't embed it in an app for offline mode:

  • Our production database is over 100GB. Compatibility data isn't all of that, but it's not small.
  • We're continually updating the database and compatibility rules to make it better. We would have to incorporate some sort of update mechanism to make sure it stayed up to date on the client side, where the size deltas could be large.
  • We view our compatibility database as a competitive advantage. I don't want to put compiled data we've spent years on in a position where it can be easily pulled out and used by competitors.
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190n 2 Builds 1 point 41 months ago

If you have a mobile site, you can use something like PhoneGap to publish it to every platform people actually use and then some.

philip staff submitter 10 Builds 1 point 41 months ago

Certainly - but then it's just a glorified web page in an app which isn't really what we want. If we go to an app, we want to go native so that we get better performance (and a more native look and feel).

SirMirroer 1 point 40 months ago

The only hard part about navigating the website on a mobile device is the sliders in the filter section are stupid to use.

Xorex64 1 point 40 months ago

YES! The only downside i see is that it will have the mobile UI. I MUCH prefer the desktop UI. In fact, i actually use the full version desktop site in mobile. Its great.

CharlieLidbury 1 Build 1 point 39 months ago

A lot of the time I just use PCPP to show friends part lists and get up-to-date pricing. This could be done simply by saving just your saved parts list on your device, more for shorter loading times.

Another, better but more complicated way to do it, IMO would be to save and archive on your device everything you look at.

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BigAll 5 Builds 1 point 37 months ago

notifications, it would be nice for our hevy users to be able to get notifications for comment replies and such

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