Mobile web browsing is developing at speed, with the iPhone leading a renaissance in the development of mobile applications. So it's vitally important that companies get their mobile strategy right. IT blogger Tim Anderson tells CWJobs about changing assumptions.
Few assumptions are safe in the IT industry. A few years back, it was obvious that that PCs running Windows were beating the Apple Mac into a tiny niche. Things look different now. If you planned your IT strategy on the earlier assumption and have not changed, you are now getting it wrong.
In consequence, the extent of mobile browsing was small and mainly focused on niche areas like travel.
It all changed with the iPhone. Those contracts are expensive, but once you buy in you generally get an unlimited data connection, and more important, a decent browser which is a version of Safari, built with WebKit. That same engine is now used in many other devices, not least those running Google Android. Suddenly, users do want to use their mobiles to browse the web; and they will be hitting your web site or application and trying to use it.
Check your stats. I run another blog at itwriting.com, and when a reader complained about its appearance on a mobile, I added a wordpress plugin which both fixes the layout and reports the traffic. According to the plugin, 5% of the traffic was from mobile users. Once the site was fixed, the figure grew dramatically, to over 15%.
A tech news blog is just the sort of thing that appeals to mobile users, so those figures will not apply in every case. The point though is this: all those assumptions about limited mobile usage which once seemed safe now no longer apply.
Here's another line I often hear. There's no need to optimise your site for mobile, since the more advanced mobile browsers work fine with normal web sites.
Unfortunately that is not the case. They work much better than older ones, true. However, the displays are very much smaller and the connection speed often much slower than on the desktop. If you want your site to be a pleasant experience for mobile users, you will likely have to deliver customised content for them.
Does everyone get this anyway? If you have a few spare minutes, head over to mobiReady and try out a few sites; or download the Android emulator; or of course use a real device to test sites that you are involved in or interested in. I did so before writing this piece, discovering that the web still looks very broken once you go beyond the top sites.
The positive spin on this is that optimising for mobile can be a relatively easy way to gain commercial advantage.
Talking of safe assumptions, one that seems good right now is that the number of web-connected mobile devices is going to grow rapidly in the coming years. Optimising for mobile was always the right thing to do. Now it is essential.
- Tim Anderson
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