The mobile web today is a bit of a minefield. You type m.something, or maybe something.mobi, then you cross your fingers. If you’re on an iPhone, or maybe Android, you probably do ok. On other devices…not so much.
As a designer, I love the iPhone—and its browser. It supports all the modern mark-up, plays well with most content on the web and is well on the way to fully supporting the new HTML 5 goodness. It’s also simple to optimise for one device (ok…3-4 at this stage, but until the retina display came out, optimising for all iOS devices only involved a few tweaks).
Meanwhile, back in the real world, Nokia devices are still (for now) the most popular on the planet. Their market share may be declining in areas, but they command 33% share of the global market. To be clear…let’s do some very basic math.
Many people have more than one device, but even if only consider the number of unique users, that’s a staggering 1.3 billion Nokia devices in circulation!
And herein lies the problem. Nokia is somewhat a victim of its own success. Nokia currently markets close to one hundred device models, each with a slightly different form-factor. What’s worse, Nokia’s been doing this for years, so there are nearly as many old devices in circulation as there are new ones. And with price points that range from £10-£500, you can expect a huge variation in specification.
With all this diversity, it’s easy to throw your hands up and say “Why bother…let’s just support the iPhone…and maybe Android.”
We’ve been working with Nokia devices for years and agree that the diversity is a problem. In this article, we hope to provide some much needed perspective on the subject, clarify each browser’s level of web standards support, and suggest how best to group Nokia devices in to easy to support categories.
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Why the lack of support?
Nokia shipped its first non-WAP browser in 2004 and by 2009, most of the approximately 329 million devices it shipped in included a browser.
- A small percentage of these—the super-cheap entry-level devices—may only have shipped with a WAP browser.
- A much larger percentage—the featurephones—supported XHTML-MP 1.0.
Unfortunately, many mobile sites fall just short of optimising for Nokia smartphones. The White House mobile site for example, works perfectly on most Nokia devices—except the font is too small on touch devices. On other sites, the width is constrained to the iPhone’s 320 pixel-wide screen, providing a less than optimal experience for the majority of Nokia touch (360 pixel) and non-touch (240 pixel) devices. Others still, redirect Nokia devices to the desktop site, even though there is a compatible mobile site available.
This problem is particularly apparent in the US where Nokia’s market share is so low that it often falls into the “why bother” category. American brands such as Twitter and Facebook however have plenty of reasons to think twice about not supporting Nokia devices.
In emerging economies, we have an opposite problem. Nokia devices still rule but most consumers own a featurephone or legacy smartphone that only supports XHTML MP. To make matters worse, global 3G penetration is expected to reach a mere 21% in 2010. No wonder then that free and bandwidth-efficient browsers such as UCWeb and Opera Mini are gaining adoption in these markets—regardless of the quality of a user’s natively available browser. (As we will discuss later [1, 2], supporting UC Web and Opera Mini can prove an excellent alternative to formal support for older or more basic Nokia devices).
And the rest I think can be blamed on Nokia. When you ship that many devices, with models segmented to reach all income brackets and markets, things can get a bit…um…complicated.
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An introduction to Nokia platforms
The first thing to understand about Nokia browsers is that the browser version isn’t as relevant as it might be on the desktop (e.g. IE 6 vs 7). Don't get me wrong, there is some relevance to the browser version, however sorting out which device has which browser is a bit of a black art. In the end, it makes far more sense to group the devices into families with similar characteristics based on the platform version.
Nokia platforms loosely correspond to the general customer group the devices are aimed at, and consequently impact the features and price point. This in turn gives us an idea of how powerful the device (and browser) will be.
- Series 30 are tiny entry-level devices, primarily designed for emerging economies. These devices support either WAP or XHTML MP 1.0—and a few, have no browser at all.
- Series 40 are the Featurephones, solid little devices with a basic operating system and features designed for the masses. Thankfully, Nokia decided years ago that the masses might not just need a camera, radio, and music player; they would also need a browser. Most of these devices include a basic browser that supports XHTML MP 1.1.
- Maemo (now called MeeGo) is a Linux based operating system designed for a variety of devices and used (to date) on four 800 x 480 pixel tablet devices. Maemo devices ship with a high-specification browser based on the Mozilla rendering engine.
It’s within Series 60 and Series 40 that we find the majority of Nokia devices and since 2004--all these devices have shipped with a browser.
The following pages will examine each platform in detail and outline the devices, browsers, and web standards support within each group. We will also note common bugs and suggest appropriate test devices for each browser.
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Stephanie is a designer and closet anthropologist with a passion for the many ways people interact with technology. With a diverse background, Stephanie's expertise lies in marrying design, technology and business goals to craft simple, elegant experiences. A compulsive researcher, Stephanie is always keen to discover and share insights on the mobile web and mobility trends in emerging economies.