Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Making a big deal out of mobile

Publishing a website suitable for mobile phones used to be a real challenge. There were many factors that played into this, pre-iPhone, and it wasn't just the size and usability of the screen:

  • Bandwidth was limited (oh yes, you think AT&T "4G-is-coming-because-the-rest-of-our-service-is-sooo-slow" is bad, try booking a flight over a standard GSM connection)
  • Usability was clunky at best, Windows Mobile at worst
  • The software development tools were limited, web protocols were obscure (for standard web developers), including WAP and others, all trying to seek standardization and best use of bandwidth, and achieving limited adoption
  • The mobile devices just weren't ready for the general public's use of the Internet (I would struggle with one, my wife would throw it out the window)

Things have progressed in leaps and bounds. The devices are amazing to use. Even the cheapest smartphone 'handset' offers a pretty decent 300x400 pixel screen, completely adequate for browsing simple, standard HTML sites. We have mobile web browsers, with real browser technology squashed down from the desktop. From a distance, things look like websites.

Some devices like the iPhone 4 even boast 900x700 size screens. But that just squashes everything into the same physical size. Side by side with an iPhone 3, the new one looks crisper, sharper, brighter. But it doesn't really do much for my overall web browsing experience. iPad and other tablets aside, the phones have reached a plateau on what they seem to be sensibly delivering from web browsing capability. 

So I'm regularly asked questions like "but an iPhone can browse regular websites, right? So why do you need special mobile sites?". The answer is clear when you actually try. This blog appears okay on an iPhone, if you don't mind zooming and dragging the window around to read it. But anything with multiple columns, Flash, crazy drop down menus -- well, they're usually usable but tiring, and often just look ugly.

So you want to impress customers with your new fancy website? Make sure that those customers who are on the move can get your information fast, clearly and easily on a mobile website built for mobiles. Because you can guarantee that after waiting 30 seconds for a web page that is mostly flash and wide columns of text, they will just hit Google and search for your competitors. 

A post from the Improving It blog
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