Mobile phones, invented in 1973 and released in 19831 have been a developing technology for the past 30 years. The current race is to create an internet-friendly cell phone that can overcome a variety of bulky problems, such as operability on a small user interface, accessible content, quick downloading, and security2. Internet-accessible cell phones are the hottest new gadgets on the market today, but can web sites keep up with the hype of these new products? Or are these new gadgets going to create more problems than then they solve?
With a wide variety of issues, from cost of use, to purpose and ability of use3, there are new developments and positions of companies daily, such as this most recent article from timesonline.com regarding Microsoft and Nokia teaming up4:
Nokia, the handset manufacturer, has announced that it will start pre-installing a raft of Microsoft internet applications on its phones from early next year as a way of increasing revenue from web services.
From January, owners of Series 40 handsets will find Windows Live Hotmail, Messenger, Live Contacts and Live Spaces installed on their phones, while the applications will be available for five phone models this week.
Even though the cell phone companies and internet applications are jockeying for a major presence on cell phone internet browsers, the problem still remains: How to design a functional website for a browser that may only be a few inches by a few inches.
The World Wide Web Consortium (WC3) is currently working on improvements5 for mobile web practices. This means that the browsers and operating systems for cell phones are now at a pivotal point, where demand for Internet mobility, and functional Internet mobility is a high-demanded objective. The first best practices outline is here: http://www.w3.org/TR/mobile-bp/ and states that pages have a page weight of 20 kilobytes, a screen width of 120 pixels and details such as device limitations like bandwidth and cost to advantages from being portable and connected to web content.
In addition to the WC3 standards, there is .mobi (or DotMobi), which is a top-level domain “approved by ICANN and managed by the mTLD global registry.”6 This means that some businesses could create sites specifically for cellular devices, which would serve as a parallel site for companies who want to create accessibility to their content and/or services to mobile users. The use of a dual web offering might be the future for many high traffic sites, but may remain out of reach for smaller or personal home pages. A useful site to check a page for mobile-readiness is here: http://mr.dev.mobi/launch.jsp?locale=en_EN. I performed a page check during which a developer tip comes up advising the disuse of tables, and received a score 2.39. (I currently only have text on the page however).
Another creation is Vodafone which “automatically renders fixed web pages into a format that makes them easy to read and navigate on a handset”7 There might be some content prioritization issues with this feature, but as most translators go, it is a definite solution for companies that do not create or are unable to create their own mobile site.
On a user side, there is some objection to using .mobi sites because of edited content.8 Transcoders, such as www.skweezer.net and the yahoo.com transcoded search feature at http://us.m.yahoo.com/?tsrc=rawfrontwfront take regular website content and make it more mobile-web friendly by listing the content for scrolling. The latter gives the mobile web user a choice of using a .mobi site or a .com site.
Despite the many issues raised by mobile web accessibility, the iPhone has brought about rapid change in mobile web usability. Some believe that the version of Safari on the iPhone will make .mobi and one web9 development obsolete.10 Apple’s motto is that browsing websites should be a software issue, not a web development issue.
Apple's response to redesigning the Web for mobile devices? Don't. Instead of putting the requirement on developers of sites or creating a special subset of the Internet for the mobile Web, the iPhone simply makes the real, full Internet completely accessible for the first time on a small screen.11
In addition to the “double tap” zoom in and out feature on the iPhone internet browser, Safari 3.0 also allows for page view, bookmarks and PDF capabilities.12 The iPhone does not use transcoding or WML, but the web browser does not support Flash or Java.13 Development for iPhone Safari has brought specialized development sites such as www.marketcircle.com/iphoney/.
Despite the radical jump of the iPhone with web browsing technology, content on the web that mobile web users can access continues to be a hot issue. The Mobile Web Americas Conference & Expo14 will feature an abundant supply of interested web-industry professionals, most having a vested interest in making their content available to those using cell phones to access the web.15 For those not using the iPhone browser, using Widgets and other applications such as AJAX16 that allow for a more seamless browsing experience, will fuel development of web capability on mobile devices.
What web developers are facing with regards to the trend to access the Internet on mobile phones may pose new problems, but there will be a variety of potential breakthrough solutions. Keeping up with the “hype” of these new products and features is, in my opinion, part of the on-going technological improvements to web browsing.
Even though there are many problems to tackle, I think one large problem these new gadgets will be is the cost involved by accessing the web via mobile. The cost issue is likely to decrease while better web building improves, and further development is made in the area of .mobi, widgets, and perhaps the more widespread use of Apple’s Safari 3.0.
The same practices of developing pages apply, checking the code, using small images for background and thumbnails. Not using frames, and following development guides put out by Apple and mr.dev.mobi. Currently however, most people who will be accessing bmw.mobi’s site are wealthy enough to shop for a car on a cell phone instead of a home computer, and this opens the window for the wealthier end of web content providers to take the lead in development of larger accessibility of web design on the software and coding.