Reports of the Mobile Web’s Death Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

M. Jackson Wilkinson, Former Viget

Article Category: #Design & Content

Posted on

January 9th must have been a scary day for the Mobile Web. Steve Jobs stood on a stage at MacWorld and told the entire mobile industry not only that it would be competing with its much-rumored iPhone, but that it finally lets users browse the "real web," and not just those plain, boring "mobile" sites. Every company, consultant, and developer who had spent time or money working on a great mobile site to give their users a better mobile experience must have felt like they'd wasted their time. And here we are, just over a month after the coveted iPhone hit the hands of consumers, and they are all quickly coming to find their reliance on none other than the Mobile Web. Just days after the launch, and even before the launch, scores of iPhone-centric sites were popping up, including the iPhone version of Digg and the slick suite of Leaflets from the guys at Blue Flavor. Now, a month later, there seems to be an iPhone site for almost everything, from reading various newspapers to tracking your fuel mileage. Why would iPhone users, with a mobile web browser that can parse and cleanly display full-size web pages, gravitate toward these special sites, which often have a more limited feature set and a more ordinary appearance? The answer is context. Content is still important, but context is king on a mobile device. If you have a device, like the iPhone, with a small screen, a limited ability to enter lots of text, and a slow or latent connection, the last thing you want is to have to zoom around different parts of a page, type in a load of text, or wait while twenty-odd connections finish loading your one page. Instead, you typically want to complete a specific task, and don't want extraneous "features" or "information" to get in the way of making it happen. Let's pretend you live in the DC area, even if you don't, and you want to take the Metro. On an iPhone, you have to wade past news headlines, advertisements, and links to information about the Board of Directors before finding the route planner. Then, you have to type in your origin and destination with the on-screen keyboard. Once you submit, assuming you typed correctly, you wade past that other info again to find the next train. Compare this with their mobile site (which doesn't work on the iPhone, since it's old-school WAP, but should work on other mobile phones) or the iPhone-centric Meenster. Within three finger- or key-presses, and no input or scrolling, you can find the same information. These sites recognize the limitations of the mobile platform -- even the iPhone -- and provide a user experience that helps you do what you came to the site to do as easily as possible. Rather than make the Mobile Web irrelevant, the iPhone has instead done just the opposite: mobile applications are more relevant than ever, and iPhone users are quickly choosing to use services that have chosen to offer sites that provide them with a better user experience. When considering whether or not the investment in a mobile-centric site is worth it for your company or project, consider two quick questions:
  • Would someone using a mobile device have a reason to need your service immediately?
  • Does the information needed require a form to access, or is it found more than one click into the site?
If so, you probably have a significant audience that would be better served by a site tailored to mobile, and when you serve users' needs quickly and effectively, they're not only going to come back, but they'll do your evangelizing for you. The Mobile Web isn't dead: it's just getting started.

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