November 5, 2007

iPhone zoomy web or taylored mobile web?

Filed under: uncategorized — Tags: — danielharris @ 3:23 pm

I bumped into a friend last week. He runs a company that designs and builds online promos and games.

“Do much mobile stuff?” I said.
He shrugged his shoulders. “nah – there’s no point anymore…” at which point he produced a gleamingly hacked iPhone “…when you can have full internet.”
He began to wildly zoom and drag and twist an inderciphiferble webpage, until I could see a number of links which were now completely out of context.

It’s would be bizarre product design if it weren’t for our preconceptions of the web. And if this attitude is widely held, it could restrain the development of contextual web apps.

So its straw poll time. Which camp are you in?

1. Full mobile internet, no conversion to mobile screens, thanks – let me see what i’m used to on the desktop
2. Taylored mobile internet – allowing me to have a contextual mobile web experience, with the least number of clicks drags and zooms

answers below please!



  1. If I have to come down on one side or the other, then 2. I’m sure Luke would also be a strong supporter of “Taylored” content 🙂

    That said, it’s a bit more complicated.

    Right now, if I have a client interested in mobile, the last thing I recommend is a mobile Web site. Why? Because all mobile Web sites suck. Not in absolute terms, but in the context of a mobile device and particularly in comparison to dedicated applications on mobiles. It just takes too damn long to start the browser, apart from anything else. Then, to really make a mobile application work well, you need to make really careful use of all the available buttons/touch controls, taking into account where they are on the device and the typical grip modes for that device. You also need to understand the current skill level of the user and adapt to it (think Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development, if you’re into education theory). My current favourite mobile route is Java — think mobile GMail, mobile Google Maps, Yahoo! To Go — with Flash Lite catching up fast in terms of deployability.

    Of course, a dedicated mobile application isn’t a justifiable investment in many, if not most, cases. In that case, I’d question the point of producing a “mobile site”: you’ll be making a point but doing so with something mediocre. Better to have a site that’s also able to work well on a mobile device — eg, with careful use of semantic mark-up and style sheets; good support for no-graphics browsing — so that people are, at worst, pleasantly surprised.

    Slick as the iPhone is (and remembering even Apple’s own aggressive market share target is only 1% in the short term), its browser misses out a key feature of the desktop experience: the mouse pointer. Nokia’s excellent (and open source) browser for S60 includes a mouse pointer which you move around with your direction keys. Sounds terrible, but works well and scores brilliantly for desktop familiarity. Try Amazon or Marks and Spencer with the two, and see which feels more natural. I’ve been using Opera’s latest beta for a while. Even on my little (but snappy) S40 Nokia I get that full page, zoom-in experience, and also with a mouse pointer. Tellingly, Opera gives the option of choosing between the “original” and “mobile” layout; the latter, for many uses (notably reading blogs) is substantially quicker: scrolling on one axis only; easy one-handed operation.

    It’s undoubtedly extremely useful to have the desktop Web on a device in your pocket, even if there are some compromises. The few devices/browsers mentioned above are getting close to this, although the vast majority of the market uses crappy browsers intermediated by dreadful operator proxies. Good semantic mark-up seems like the best way to allow future versions of such browsers to improve the experience still further on mobile devices — tailoring the content for you.

    Mobiles are convenient, intimate and share your context much more than desktop machines. Properly exploiting those properties means not starting from “Web”, IMO.

    Comment by Lorenzo Wood — November 5, 2007 @ 10:40 pm

  2. I’m a 2 and agree with everything Lorenzo writes.

    I’d add that the desktop web is full of noise which doesn’t lend itself well to mobile.

    Think adverts, related info, images, videos, graphic layouts etc.

    None of this lends itself well to the mobile model where the user is paying for every scrap of data. I blogged this regarding Vodafone and MySpace a while ago.

    Only when the mobile use of web is free from the shackles of hidden, obstructive pricing models will user demand increase. Then we’ll start to see the change.

    I’d also add that the context of use on mobile is more impactful than that of the desktop web. Driven by either killing time or needs based, a crisis requirement or communication need.

    Comment by Warren Hutchinson — November 6, 2007 @ 10:20 am

  3. I’m a 2 and am definitely an advocate of widget or application development (as Lorenzo points out) that allows certain key apps to be deployed to a mobile in order for the interface to be slick, but contact the server for updates, or data.

    That said, I do love browsing the internet on my iPhone – more at the moment (probably due to novelty) than I do on my home laptop.

    Comment by Mouthy — November 20, 2007 @ 8:57 pm

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