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.
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 Mobile Web Toolkit, 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.