Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Mobile Web: The ‘Do Nothing’ option

From Q2 to Q3 2008, the number of Britons using mobile Internet increased by 25% (from 5.8 to 7.3 million) compared to 3% for PC-based Internet (34.3 to 35.3 million Britons) (Nielsen Online 24/11/08)

Just because the mobile web is booming, that’s not to say that every website needs a mobile version. In some cases it would be a spectacular waste of money to create a separate mobile version when the regular ‘desktop’ website will cater for mobile use just as well.

Before getting into the technicalities of handsets, mobile browsers, markup language and device detection, you need to first determine one key factor: Is anyone really likely to look at your website on their mobile phone?

What type of content are you offering?

Mobile phone users browse the internet in a different way to desktop web users. According to comScore, the fastest-growing categories for daily mobile web access in North America from 2008-2009 were:

  • News & information (BBC, TFL, Flight information, weather, Wikipedia)
  • Social Networking / Blogs (MySpace, Facebook)
  • Stocks and financial information
  • Movie information
  • Business directories
  • Entertainment (YouTube, Shazam, Flickr)
If your website does not fall into one of these categories, the chances are it won’t get much traffic from the mobile web audience.

What type of mobile web users are your audience?

According to Gartner, at the end of Q2 2008, Smartphones held about 11% of the mobile device market share Worldwode. If you already know that your audience are predominantly Smartphone users and your website is built in well-coded HTML with few images, then the browser on the Smartphone will display like a desktop browser and users can zoom in using touchscreen or QWERTY keyboard. This means that the ‘do nothing’ option might be an entirely viable one.

Will your website already render well on a mobile browser?

Every mobile handset is slightly different, but on most of the latest phones you can access the internet in one way or another. For desktop computers, websites might look and function differently on Firefox to Internet Explorer or Safari. Usually, well-written code will iron out these differences, but you may still notice a slightly different typeface, colour or positioning of elements depending on your browser. It’s exactly the same for mobile.

If the website is built in such a way that it will degrade sensibly on a small screen whilst still presenting the user with the relevant content, then it may not require a separate version. will tell you whether or not your site passes the mobile test: The site will give you a free report and a ‘readiness for mobile’ score. It’ll also show you exactly how the site will look on some of the main mobile devices.

The quick answer

In summary, the ‘Do nothing’ option may be a good option if your website is either:

a) An unlikely type of content to be accessed via the mobile medium

b) Likely to be accessed by predominantly Smartphone users

c) Already rendering well on most handsets.

Watch out for the next Mobile Web blog where I’ll be talking in more detail about different options that are available for catering for the small screen.

1 comment:

Tom Godber said...

How do you guess if it'll mainly be smartphone users accessing your site? ;)

Obviously you can observe existing traffic's User-Agent headers if you have a sufficiently sophisticated handset identification system tied in to your log, but if you have that you don't need to be told what to do...

I'm 100% in agreement that doing nothing is the sensible option for a lot of sites; for those that would be accessed on the move, there's almost always an advantage to doing some limited mobile optimising - often the bits of a site you want when mobile are not the same as those you want on a desktop. Offering a simple mobile site variant on an subdomain, reached via a link that is shown at the top of the page when it is rendered by an unsophisticated CSS engine, is definitely a good stopgap with no device detection required... You should also make damn certain your markup is squeeky clean!