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Mobile Web Next Big Thing- Are you ready for it?
[July 02, 2008]

Mobile Web Next Big Thing- Are you ready for it?


Making your web site ready for Mobile web
by Purushottam Darshankar
Market researchers have already speculated that mobile web will become next dominant internet platform and is referred to as next wave of fueling m-business. The Google, AOL, Yahoo and Microsoft (News - Alert) have already realized potential and have come up with mobile portal featuring content designed specifically for mobile devices.

Peoples have started to regard their mobile phone as gateway to the web – a means of accessing the information they previously only got through desktop browser. With an estimated 250 million US mobile subscriber, Juniper Research reports at least 10 % of them browsing internet through their mobile phones. The web based social networks such as Facebook (News - Alert) and Flickr offers pervasive use of mobile phones by young consumers.

Though the mobile web is going to be next big thing, it has its own challenges when it comes to user adaptability. The W3C (News - Alert), the leading consortium also has realized this, Tim Berner says while announcing the launch of MWI (Mobile Web Initiative), “The Mobile Web Initiative's goal is to make browsing the Web from mobile devices a reality,W3C and mobile industry leaders are working together to improve Web content production and access for mobile users and the greater Web.”

The carrier networks are very slow and when it comes to accessing improperly designed mobile website, the users are getting impatient waiting for sites to load. Most of the sites, that are technologically capable of sensing when they are being loaded by a mobile browser, claim to deliver web site content optimized for mobile use however are not formatted properly for small screen.

The users are well adapted to Windows environment and find it difficult accessing mobile web which allows only one page to be displayed at a time, and pages can only be viewed in the sequence they were originally accessed. Though the use of mobile device in future is promising, the limitation of human eye sight, hand size and device screen size will make user to prefer desktop over mobile phone for select category of operations.

Knowing the screen size may help to optimize the content, however it is best to keep the shape and style to minimal and linear as possible knowing the fact that mobile world contains craziest screen variations. The mobile sites flooded with advertisement slow down the page loading and also fill up screen unnecessarily making website sub-standard.

The lack of consistency across multiple browsers is another pain area and testing mobile web site on devices has become a nightmare, with more than 40 plus mobile browser available in the market.

High end phones Vs low end phones

Low end phones have several limitations, including screen resolution and limited XHTML rendering capability of browser. If the majority of your target audience lies in this category it is advised to develop the mobile web site using WML(Wireless Markup Language).

On the other hand the high end phones (including Smartphone and PDA’s) have ability to run the website that is comparable to one you might run on desktop IE browser.

This may inspire the business to come up with one web that means making, as far as is reasonable, the same information and services available to users irrespective of device they are using. This may fail to deliver in providing optimized experience to mobile user. While device may be capable of rendering full, traditional web page design, sending them the normal version is not a best practice as content has to go over carrier network, which is much slower.

Creating a separate domain for mobile users is advised even though the user agent detection would provide us to detect if the user is using a mobile device or a desktop browser. The advantage of this is that the user browsing with high end device would be provided with option of using the traditional web site or mobile web site.

Design Considerations for Mobile Web

In early days only way to access mobile web site was through WAP browser which used to support WML as primary markup language. WML was based on card-and-deck metaphor. This card-based metaphor means all user interactions are split into cards and navigation occurs between cards within a deck. The WML is still used by legacy systems that are supporting low end phones. The WAP gateway enables connecting of mobile devices to web servers.

With advancement of mobile technologies, most built in browsers these days support XHTML-MP (Mobile Profile), the standard designed specifically for mobile devices. cHTML is another standard developed by Japanese mobile manufacturers to support DoCoMo’s i-Mode phones.
XHTML-MP consist fewer elements (Structure ,Texts ,Hypertext ,List ,Forms ,Basic Tables ,Image ,Object Metainformation ,Scripting ,Style Sheet ,Style Attribute ,Link ,Base) and also tighter restriction to enable device browser to handle the web content. Practically all the devices sold today support XHTML. The doctype for XHTML-MP site would begin like
<!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//WAPFORUM//DTD XHTML Mobile 1.0//EN" "http://www.wapforum.org/DTD/xhtml-mobile10.dtd">

You can visit site like http://flickr.com/mob or http://mobile.fandango.com and can look at XHTML-MP coding.

User experience is next important thing and developer should provide easy navigation by providing necessary links to go to top of the page, home page and link to skip the menu and go directly to the content. The long text on mobile website can be painful experience as user will have to do lot of vertical and horizontal scrolling. CSS (News - Alert) can be effectively used to knock off certain text. Use of declaration like .handheldHide {display :none} in handheld stylesheet is enough to filter the content.

Use of few images that too of smaller size is preferred that too in JPEG or GIF format that have high compression ratio. PNG images can be further compressed using OptiPNG tool

Even though some of browsers support Javascript (IE, NetFront, OPenWave) to some degree, use of it should be restricted as debugging of Javascript is difficult.

Tools and Resources

In order to know the shortcomings of different browsers for different standards one can make use of some of the resources mentioned herein.

To test the support of your browser to XHTML and CSS styling you can access http://cameronmoll.com/articles/mobile/mkp/ . The “advanced” page of this site even tests the support of Javascript by browser.

To determine how your device interprets handheld stylesheet you can visit http://htmldog.com/test/handheld.html url from your device.
One can test their own mobile web site to see if it is ready for mobile user on emulator provided at http://mtld.mobi/emulator.php. This site can also be used by developer in checking and validating their markup language.

Different mobile browsers, their capability and on how do they handle real web pages is well explained at http://www.howtocreate.co.uk/operaStuff/devices/. The site concludes with best browser, which has low resource usage and small footprint, that is Opera.

The browser capabilities have improved much over the past years and almost all of them have a good support for XHTML. However for optimized experience for mobile user’s one need to design the mobile specific site. To support low end phones one will have to provide both versions of website viz. XHTML-MP and WML. Concept of having one site to force-feed the same content as that displayed on the traditional site without considering different needs and requirements of mobile device could lead to disaster.

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