Is Australia Ready for the Mobile Web?

Jun
4
2007

Are we ready for the Next Wave

A few weeks back I ran smack bang right into the mobile web.

Yeah I know the mobile web isn’t new. I have been able to access the web for a while from the crippled bandaid solution of WAP and all its problems, which Philipp Lenssen discusses a lot better than I can here. To the full on 3G version that is now available in Australia in limited areas. Problem is I don’t use it that much, you see I’m not often that far from a computer and I hate using the numeric keypad for complex URLs, okay I’m lazy.

A few years back I played around with the mobile web via my Palm V, but the browse support was very poor to the point where you were not sure why the sites rendering badly. Was it the browser or the site itself.

So what changed. Well we were out to dinner (a rare event), very nice meal was had, but we finished earlier than expected. So I attempted to cruised around the web on the mobile looking for something to fill in the vacant hours. This was a nightmare. Sites without content, sites that didn’t render, and sites that did render like for normal 800 px x 600 px resolution screen.

So the mini talk on the Mobile Web that Nick Cowie gave for the AWIA at a recent Port80 monthly meeting was renforced by my own user experience, limited that it maybe at the time. It was a real eye opener for me. The results where not that encouraging at all for the Australian mobile web. In general from the very small sample I experienced the traditional web is far from ready for the mobile one. Here are some pointers:

  • Make it accessible.

    If you have a web site that in any shape or form the information within it will be accessed by people in a social or entertainment capacity. Then you must consider that people will access the site via their mobile phone.

  • It’s not boardband.

    Mobiles don’t often in Australia have the full download capacities of wired broadband computers , despite various telcos claims the download speed can be as slow as a dial-up modem at times. Allow for this; render with a simple style sheet

  • We are impatient.

    Mobile phone users, like me, just want the information. Keep it simple, no drop down menus, not flash, no ajax and limit the use of forms. Just a menu system to get me to the page I need then render the information I need, remove all the meaningless graphics.

  • Make the site shallow.

    We don’t want ten click, four scroll downs to get to the page, then ten tabs to find the right section on the page. It took me twenty minutes to get to the information I wanted on a site due to the poor design for mobiles.

  • Don’t use long URLs

    Don’t make it long, think up a short version, great for the mobile web. As unless its book marked we may have to type that long URL in on the standard mobile numeric keypad.

  • Font size.

    The screens are smaller, don’t assume I have 20/20 vision and I can read your 1mm font. I can’t, if I can’t read your site I’ll go elsewhere.

So if you have a site that you think that people may want to have a look at on their mobile what do you do. First don’t think about it. Act.

Ensure you know what’s going on in this space, get up to speed. The team at Westciv have produced the usual high quality overview of the CSS Mobile Profile Learning the Mobile Web Standards, it’s a good starting point. Have a look at the output from the W3C Mobile web Initiative. Maybe consider what Beeweeb are doing with their , this can assist you moving towards to the mobile web. Either way you should also have a look at the DotMobi Mobile Web Developer’s Guide, very handy if developing or designing for the mobile web.

Download the Opera Mobile Browser onto your phone, have a look at it. It’s a different approach but it is gaining traction in the mobile phone arena. However be aware as Kai Hendry points out the compliance to the various specifications (OMA subsets of XHTML-MP [400k PDF] and Wireless CSS [400k PDF]) is ad-hoc at best. Remind you of anything, like maybe the early web, with over 40-60 browsers on the market you really have to keep it simple.

Finally go talk / listen to one of the experts in this field, Brian Fling who is presenting and doing a workshop at Web Directions South 2007 (which I can assume you are going to, and if not why not!).

Show your clients what their sites look like on a phone, make them realise it needs to be changed and that it will cost. Lets get Australia onto the mobile web.

So are you ready for the mobile web? Like the desktop web started with a few minor waves before the onslaught of the big breakers. So the Mobile Web is drawing back and the big waves are coming, are you ready. Surfs up.

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15 comments

  1. Good post. Can I also add for those of us without unlimited data plans- we are paying by the kilobyte. It goes to your point about “its not boardband” but let’s spell it out further. If your site is going to cost me more to visit I might not go there. I also have the option to turn off graphics altogether, and I do, again to save. If your site is meaningless without graphics again it is not a site that I am going to visit often. Having said that we are crying out for Australian content.

  2. On CSS: do not rely on that alone to feed someone a ‘mobile’ version. The reason is the bandwidth — don’t force people to load HTML they can’t use. Sadly I think the mobile space is the place you need to have a different version of your site.

    Not sure what AUS telco’s do but in Canada the data plans are outrageously expensive. For that reason I doubt the mobile web will take off… at least not until the data plans drop in price.

  3. The answer to all your mobile web woes: .mobi

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/.mobi

    😉

  4. mmmm…here in Holland T-mobile already offer web-and-walk subscription. 10 euro’s a month for unlimited bandwidth on your mobile. And some other (more expensive) possiblities for faster access. I don’t doubt that australia and als canada will follow..

    Martin

  5. I still feel that mobile phones aren’t ready for the web, not the other way around. Mobile manufacturers aren’t shipping phones with browsers that recognise the handheld media type. So, you don’t build a mobile-ready website; you have to build a whole other website and hope people guess the URL.

    [Aside – am I the only person who simply cannot take “dot mobby” seriously? It’s like .biz – a domain name that trivialises its own content.]

    So basically my view is this: until mobile phones use handheld CSS, I’m not wasting my time. The only people who are building mobile sites at the moment are telcos building walled gardens; and businesses where the ROI makes it worthwhile. It just isn’t worth the extreme outlay for the average website to go run up extra domains and rebuild the entire site for mobile.

  6. Ben, I disagree with you. I am sitting on the bus using my mobile. After checking the news on news.com.au, my email on gmail and my feeds on bloglines – all with special subsites just for mobiles.
    Gary great post

  7. Hi Gary

    Interesting discussion. I’ve been trying to research “made for mobile sites” in Australia, and haven’t had much luck. I first heard about dot mobi sites a few months back, but to date can only find a handful here.

    Ben, .mobi sites aren’t that expensive to set up. I run a directory site called dLook, and a month or so ago we introduced http://dlook.mobi as a mobile business directory. And we’re far from a “telco”. We’re still tweaking it, but thought I’d mention it as an example of an SME who’s entered the space.Of course publicising it is a whole different challenge.

  8. Mobile web…

    Just quickly, in response to Gary’s post ‘Is Australia ready for the mobile web?‘
    Well, we (Pascal and I) are not! I’m starting to realise how important it is, especially for sites like EnjoyPerth. Pascal isn’t exactly a w…

  9. Finally I managed a proper trackback 😉

  10. Hi, Read with interest your post. I am located in country Victoria. I am in the process of building mobile sites.

    I have just started building

    http://ozy.mobi-Australia on your mobile.

    (Edit – removed various off topic links)

    I am working on more mobi sites- including an art site, real estate site, and many more.
    The problem that will hold back the mobile internet in Australia is the high cost of mobile internet usage.

  11. Thank you all for the comments the mobile web really does remind me of the standard computer base web of the old days.

    Point to note this discussion is NOT for a link fest to your latest Mobile based site. These comments will be deleted. You have been warned.

  12. Good article Gary, I quite enjoyed the read =)

  13. I’d recommend you to download the beta of Opera Mini 4 when it’s released on the 19th. (http://operamini.com/beta) Like Opera Mobile, it now fully supports handheld and media queries, and reduces data traffic due to the compression it uses on the server. (Disclosure: I work for Opera)

  14. In some industries, mobile internet by phone will open up a huge new user base. In the construction industry for example, tradesman and contractors generally loathe computers. Mention a resource on the internet that can save them money and/or time and the simple fact of having to use a computer to access it will keep them as far away from it as possible.
    BUT – Don’t tell them its internet/computer based, but they can just dial it up on their phone, and they’ll give it a go. (They all have phones)
    So, the resources are deployed where they are most useful. Onsite where they are working. I’ve been waiting for this for ages

  15. Great summary of the situation of mobile internet in Australia. I too have recently stumbled onto it, after long dismissing it as a waste of time. Opera Mini, in my opinion, has revolutionised web access on small screens, but there’s only so much it can do.

    I absolutely agree with you that content providers need to step up to the mark and make their sites easily accessible.

    I’ve recently written an article on my blog (Top 5 Reasons to Use Mobile Internet) discussing some of the more user-friendly content available in Australia. Your readers may be interested.

    Regards,
    Andrej

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