While driving into work this morning, Pandora for the iphone had buffering issues. Between street lights, I took a look at my iphone and noticed the ‘3G’ indicator was not on, nor was I on the edge network. All my phone had was cellular connection to AT&T. The first thing that popped in my head was, “Great, what the hell am I suppose to do with this damn thing.” Oh wait, I can still make and receive calls… Then it struck me, losing data access on my phone felt the same as losing broadband access at my home. My phone became just as useless as my PC. Both can still function without access to the web but what’s the point? Is a cell phone that can only makes calls now considered a useless device? Or more interestingly, is expectation from a smart phone equivalent to that of a desktop computer? If you get pissed when your cellular data network fails, then the answer to both is yes.
The tech’s blogsphere is flooding readers with all sorts of data on how quickly mobile web access and expectations are growing. Opera released charts reflecting the immense growth of mobile web access on their mini browser. The realities of mobile web is not that dissimilar to web surfing on a desktop/laptop computer. Regardless if there is an app for that or how open a particular mobile OS is, people with these devices are quick to fire up the browsers on their phones with expectation of easy access to information. The frightening reality now is not how similar a web page looks on a mobile phone as compared to a desktop computer but rather how easy it is to access the information on that site. Expectations have shifted from site access to mobile optimization. Then the answer is obvious, churn out a imaged-stripped, single column mobile version of a website and call it good. Do that and risk pissing off the mobile web user even more.
I argue constantly about usability vs. compatibility and that arguement is still true for mobile web. Creating a simple text version of your site is not enough, you must understand how a mobile user will interact with your content. Fingers and tiny links fail. Streaming data not optimized on a small screen fails. Lack of quick account access on mobile web fails. It is not a matter of creating a new information taxonomy of your content but rather a new UI optimized for mobile user expectation. So where should you start? Apple has a great online resource that is a good place to start when thinking about mobile web: the iPhone Human Interaction Guidelines. I would also recommend using Apple’s Dashcode to help design the mobile presentation of your web content. You want to stay away from a particular device and truly be device agnostic? Take a look at W3C’s Web of Devices, an excellent resource for mobile agility.
From the desktop to the laptop to the mobile phone, the hardware may have shrank but expectation has not. It is not a matter of should you create a mobile optimized version of your site but rather when. You might want get to work on it asap or many of your web visitors are going to grumble, “Not mobile-optimized? You suck.”