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The Mobile Web and Context

February 10th, 2009 - by Brett Derricott - Salt Lake City, Utah

I recently came across a blog post in which the author predicted the “end of the mobile web” due to the iPhone featuring Apple’s Safari web browser.

Here’s a quote from the post:

Increasingly, you can browse the real web on a phone and have a high quality experience. There is less and less need for a special dumbed down version of the web just for mobile devices; instead we can have a single device-independent web that’s presented in the best possible way on a variety of devices.

Browsing the web on the iPhone (or iPod Touch) is a much-improved experience when compared to just about every other mobile device. It’s true. And I think that’s what the author was so excited about. I do agree that using Safari on the iPhone makes visiting a standard, non-optimized website doable. I disagree, however, that this means the mobile web is going away.

Why do we need to optimize sites for mobile devices if Safari can render them the way it does on a desktop or a laptop? There are three reasons.

  1. Bandwidth: Just because the iPhone can make sense of all the code originally written for a full-size browser, doesn’t mean we should clog the mobile pipes. Optimized mobile sites load faster and use less bandwidth, and that translates into savings for both website owners and mobile subscribers.
  2. Screen Resolution: You can shrink the Mona Lisa onto a postage stamp and it’ll still look like the Mona Lisa, but I doubt you’ll say it’s just as good as the full size version. Websites that aren’t optimized for mobile devices are shrunken to fit into the tiny mobile screen. Why require users to zoom in and out all day to read web content and use navigation? Great websites are optimized for the small mobile screen.
  3. Mobile Context: This point is the most important. Mobile website visitors aren’t sitting at a desk. They’re walking or driving or doing something on the move. They’re sitting in a waiting room, a lobby, or standing in an elevator. As a result of their mobile context, they’re likely looking for either different information or for a summarized version. CNN agrees. Check out their mobile site. In contrast to their full website, their mobile version is quite limited. Amazon, Kayak, and Agency Fusion are three more examples of sites that have a mobile version specifically catering to a user’s mobile context. Visit them from your mobile device to see how they’re addressing context.

So, is the mobile web going to die? No, not anytime in the foreseeable future. What do you think? How often do you use the mobile web? And do you appreciate visiting mobile-optimized sites?