I’m desperately trying to get my organisation to realise that mobile browsing is fast becoming very popular, and that we need to design accordingly. Mobile phone penetration is immense in the UK, reaching 100% in 2005 (i.e. one mobile for every person, on average). This near-ubiquity makes them a vital target technology.
However, a debate has been sparked about how best to provide for your mobile users. Usability expert Jakob Nielsen has just published an article comparing the Mobile Web 2009 with the Desktop Web 1998. Ultimately he calls for the creation of separate sites for mobile devices, and therein lies the debate.
Henny Swan discusses why building a separate site is not a great idea on her blog. This follows on from Bruce Lawson’s own musings on whether mobile web development is compatible with the One Web.
I’m definitely against the ‘two sites’ approach in most instances, and many devices nowadays have decent browsers which render pages just fine anyway. For this reason I hate it when I get directed to a Mobile version of a site, often with greatly reduced functionality. By all means offer a stylesheet optimised for mobile browsers, but make it my choice to switch to that (I’ve seen good examples where the main page says “we have detected that you’re using such-and-such device – you might be interested in viewing the mobile version here”).
One issue brought back to the fore when building for mobile devices, though, is the need to keep page sizes down. Designers have increasingly been discarding that ethic with the rise of broadband, but we need to keep building lean sites with clean code to help those who are paying by the MB to browse (as well as for all the other reasons)!
Of course, we’re also seeing a proliferation of apps designed for mobile devices, often allowing them to bypass the standard websites completely (for example, I have Y! Mobile on my device which pulls in my Yahoo e-mails, weather and news etc, without actually visiting the Yahoo website itself). This is a whole new way of enticing mobile customers to access your site’s functionality.
All of this is really about the wider issue of usability. I’d like to do some decent research on what disabled users expect from their mobile devices before taking a definitive stance on the accessibility issues. For now, though, I won’t be building any separate mobile sites – just concentrating on getting the main one right.
- There’s a discussion about this on AccessifyForum, including an edited version of this very post.
- Bruce Lawson has written an article on ZDnet: Forget the mobile web: One site should work for all.
- Also see the W3C’s Mobile Web Best Practices (MWBG), as well the relationship between MWBG and the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.