Many a story has begun with the line “a funny thing happened on the way to the theatre”. Aside from the blatant Vaudevillian reference, this is a surprisingly accurate way to begin any recollection of recent events at yiibu.
A few months back I submitted the smallest speck of an idea for a talk I was hoping to present at Over The Air in London. Having presented at Over The Air before I assumed my experiences this time around would more or less be the same—a chance to bounce a few of my recent thoughts off two-dozen or so UK developers.
To suggest that my assumption was wrong would in-fact be a massive understatement...
Three weeks later, the dust is still settling on the
90,000 140,000 presentation views, hundreds of tweets, and multitude of conversations, and I finally have time to provide the presentation with a much-needed introduction.
A little background
Over the past few years we've worked on several mobile web related projects – including the development of Forum Nokia's Mobile Web Templates. This has included a significant amount of device and browser testing, and the creation of much related documentation. Throughout this time we've employed an approach that is fairly common within the industry:
- create a separate mobile site (*.mobi, m.*, etc)
- use a device database (DeviceAtlas or WURFL) to look up device capabilities based on known User-Agent strings.
- create templates optimised for each device grouping
- employ content adaptation on the server to ensure images, markup and content are appropriate for the requesting device
- provide some way for the user to switch between the desktop and mobile site
While this approach may be considered entirely sensible to the majority of folks in the mobile world, this isn't necessarily the case for those coming from the more traditional (aka desktop) web world. The current approach can be so confusing, frustrating and discouraging that it's no surprise desktop web developers ultimately focus on optimising their sites for just one device – the iPhone.
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The mobile ecosystem
While the iPhone has had an undeniably enormous impact on the mobile industry, it continues to have low overall market penetration. Even in the smartphone-centric US, the iPhone only accounts for roughly 6% of the market, with European numbers averaging slightly lower at around 4%.
If you want to use the web on a mobile device, is the purchase of an iPhone the cost of entry?
The mobile ecosystem is extremely diverse (and becoming more so from day to day) with market leaders such as Nokia, Blackberry and Samsung each commanding sizeable, but non-majority segments of the market. In addition, smaller brands such as HTC, ZTE, G'Five, Micromax, Spice and Nexian are rushing to fill local demand in what many perceive as 'niche' (but strategically significant) markets.
Given all of this, we began to wonder if it was now time to rethink the way we've been designing mobile websites. Could there be a straight-forward approach, simply building upon existing knowledge, rather than requiring designers and developers to learn entirely new and unique methods of working--specifically for the mobile web?
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Bryan is a designer, writer and reluctant developer with a background in theatre design and classical animation. Bryan has worked across various media including print, broadcast, web and mobile. A passionate storyteller and incessant tinkerer, Bryan can most often be found drinking excessively strong coffee while dreaming up ways to bridge the gap between design, content and technology.