The Internet is an ever-changing world. Back in the day, HTML pages were static, handcrafted works maintained through labor and a lot of copy and paste. Then we began using languages like PHP and ASP to “process” our pages, allowing more templated sites. These languages and templates led to Web Content Management (WCM) systems like SharePoint, Joomla, Drupal, and dozens of others.
But then something funny happened: the mobile Internet.
Five major browsers were difficult to keep up with, but the mobile Internet added another half-dozen at least, as well as enough screen sizes and resolutions to make your head spin. No WCM could keep up—until SharePoint 2013. SharePoint 2013 created a way to easily adapt page structures to different devices through a mechanism call the Device Channel. Device Channels allow you to target specific devices or browsers based on the user agent string. Every device and browser has one, like the machine I am using right now:
Mozilla/5.0 (compatible; MSIE 10.0; Windows NT 6.1; WOW64; Trident/6.0)
This User Agent string tells me I am using Internet Explorer 10 (MSIE 10.0), Windows 7 64-bit version (Windows NT 6.1; WOW64).
Simply put, the Device Channel feature allows you to create a different look and feel for any User Agent string you choose. If the User Agent declares that a phone is accessing your site, you can create a look and feel that is completely different from the standard look presented to normal desktop browsers. You can get as specific or as general as you like, with just a “Mobile” and “Desktop” design, or something different for Android or Apple phones or tablets. You can even target specific devices, like an iPhone 4 versus an iPhone 5. If you are curious about where to start, check the excellent Introduction to Device Channels on MSDN.
Don’t forget however, that you don’t always have to control every aspect of your user’s SharePoint experience. SharePoint is also much more than a WCM platform; it is a collaboration and document-management platform as well, which means sometimes your users will want access to lists, libraries and other features in a simple manner across multiple devices.
Remember that stuff about HTML being a Markup Language intended to separate content from presentation? SharePoint Workspace Mobile for Windows Phone, SPConnect for Android and Harmon.ie for iPhone and iPad are all examples of tools that allow mobile devices to connect to the content of SharePoint lists and libraries without using the visual interface that SharePoint provides. Allowing the client-side to render the content the way that works best for it is almost a revolutionary idea these days.
Maybe the people who started this Internet thing had some good ideas in the beginning after all. Sometime the best management of content is making it available easily.
Stephen Wilson is a SharePoint engineer for Rackspace.