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Is Cross-Device Compatibility Possible?


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#1 bwelford

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Posted 08 March 2006 - 08:44 AM


I was hoping that it would be easy to ensure that my web pages could be viewed whatever device the visitor was using. I'm beginning to wonder whether that's an impossible dream.

Google would now seem to be dividing the universe of web pages into two groups. Just check out the Google Site Maps page entitled, Add to your account (Note - the page is only visible if you have a SiteMaps Account and are signed in.) You will see there the following:

Add a Sitemap


Sitemaps provide us with additional information about your site that we can use to better direct our crawlers and help speed up the discovery and addition of your pages to our index.

What type of Sitemap would you like to add?
  • General Web Sitemap - Lists pages that are meant to be accessed by desktop browsers.
  • Mobile Sitemap - Lists pages that are designed for access by phones, PDAs, and other mobile devices.
Does this mean that if I qualify my web pages as regular web pages they will not come up in searches done on mobile devices?

In any case, my typical newsletters are pretty long. The last one for example is about 2,500 words. Will anyone have the stamina to go through all that on a small screen?

If I want to cater to that audience, I think it's back to the drawing board. (You can't get there from here.) Can anyone suggest how much text is acceptable on a mobile web page? Of course it would also be ideal to give tools so that the full version can be saved as a Favourite if you like the mobile version. I guess I've got some research to do on that Opera page on Authoring for Small-Screen Rendering (SSR).

#2 rmccarley

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Posted 08 March 2006 - 12:53 PM

Use a seperate CSS file for "minis".

If your content is that long you may want to include something like this:
display: none;
for the more robust parts of your newsletter and really stick to just displaying the highlights. You can always add a tag that states "This article has been summerized for your mobile device, to view the full version, visit this page with a normal browser or click here" which would then open the full article.

This is a little extra work but solves all the problems you mentioned. And it shows you are committed to providing the best experience for your viewer and give them the options as to what they want to do.

#3 bwelford

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Posted 08 March 2006 - 04:17 PM

I must admit in all this I feel a bit like that crew that used To Boldly Go Where No Man Has Gone Before.

Thanks for those ideas, rmccarley. I have only one problem with what you say. The media 'minis' isn't in the current official list, which I believe is Media types. This is all part of Cascading Style Sheets, level 2 - CSS2 Specification - W3C Recommendation 12-May-1998. That document explains how to use these media types and suggests that if another media isn't on the list it may not be supported.

Do you know the current status of 'minis'?

Edited by bwelford, 08 March 2006 - 04:18 PM.


#4 rmccarley

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Posted 08 March 2006 - 05:56 PM

I just made that word up because it sounded better than saying "mobile" or whatever because I sense that mobile is a too limiting for that technology to stick with.

That's why I used the "quotes". :D

#5 AbleReach

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Posted 08 March 2006 - 11:47 PM

Actually it's media="handheld" ;-)

This afternoon I had nice visit with my friendly and knowledgeable neighborhood Cingular salesperson. :wave: Hi Dylan!
He helped me make sense of some basics.

The actual display will be controlled by what browser you are using in your mobile device or "smart" phone.

Mid to lower end phones that don't use browsers will display web sites according to the phone's specifications. No browser is involved.

Some older phones can't display pages that aren't designed using WAP, wireless Internet protocol. Could this be what is meant by "pages that are designed for access by phones, PDAs, and other mobile devices," for Google's Mobile Sitemaps?

#6 bwelford

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Posted 09 March 2006 - 05:34 AM

Thanks for the explanation and the link to WAP, Elizabeth. That helps to nail down my understanding on another little piece of the puzzle.

I still think rmccarley had a point though. I still find the 'handheld' medium (or has media now become singular :) ) covers too much ground. I'm not even sure what the different groupings might be in terms of screen size as measured in pixels. I found a working note on the Device Description Landscape on the W3C Mobile Web Initiative website but that doesn't seem to get into that from a rapid review of it. Can anyone tell me, or point me towards, information on the main groups of handheld as defined by screen size? Is anyone trying to divide 'handheld' into subgroups?

#7 rmccarley

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Posted 09 March 2006 - 12:08 PM

God I hope not.

#8 AbleReach

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Posted 09 March 2006 - 01:20 PM

Perhaps we should be thinking of handheld web as a critter of its own. Layout on a 100-300 pixel wide screen is almost moot. Readability is not a width-based layout issue - it's more like texting, with links and colors and maybe some movement.

#9 rmccarley

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Posted 09 March 2006 - 01:43 PM

I'd have to think berevity would count even more on such a small format. Sort of like the difference between a magazine ad and a billboard. "Quality" on small screens means to the point.

#10 PaulWalsh

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Posted 09 March 2006 - 05:47 PM

Hey Barry,

Interesting topic that stirs up a lot of debate. I must declare my interests in the W3C Mobile Web Initiative (http://www.w3.org/mobile) before I proceed. Iím on the MWI Steering Council and an active member of the Best Practices working group. My company (Segala) is also co-editor of the mobileOK conformance document with Google and ICRA.

So, Iíll try to respond to everyoneís comments in short with my own personal opinions.

In a perfect world, web developers could measure twice, cut once and render content everywhere (do you like the phrase? :P. Unfortunately, this isnít easy unless you use a content adaptation solution as provided by companies such as Mobile Aware or Volantis. But not everyone can afford adaptation.

There are a number of reasons why creating a site to work across all devices isnít easy. Some of them include restricted real estate, lack of colour or resolution, lack of standards between device and browser vendors and restricted input devices. I mean, the same browser could render a website differently on different devices! Oh, the markup isn't exactly mature either but the best candidate so far looks like XHTML MP (Mobile Profile).

So, itís early days but hey, I remember the limitations of browsers in 1995.

Unfortunately not every device supports CSS, so using CSS for layout is great practice but it wonít always work for mobile phones :(

Iím not sure about how much text users are likely to put up with, but I guess itíll depend on the content and its context. Iím an advocate for not making too many assumptions about what end users want. Some customers will want a mobile on the move experience Ė a contextual representation of a website based on their device type. Some customers will want a full version of a site while others will want to choose between the two.

Iím not 100% sure what the right answer is, but I do know itís not to assume mobile web = travel news, locate a taxi or weather updates onlyÖ to many companies are making this assumption, surely this can only hamper innovation and limit the potential of the Web.

Lastly, WAP isnít the same as Web. This is a piece Iíve been meaning to write about for ages. Basically, a WAP site is built specifically for a mobile device that doesnít work on other access points such as a desktop PC. Mobile Web is a Ďtraditionalí website that should work on desktop PCs and mobile devices. This warrants a longer description but Iíve already taken up enough real estate here.

The MWI is currently working on techniques and examples to help people understand how to determine the device characteristics such as resolution and screen size. http://www.w3.org/mobile

Sorry Iíll stop rambling now :P

Paul

Edited by PaulWalsh, 09 March 2006 - 05:52 PM.


#11 bwelford

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Posted 09 March 2006 - 06:05 PM

Good to see you here, Paul.

I'll have to do some more exploration of the Mobile Web Initiative website. However I'm getting the feeling that if we thought different browsers in desktops was complex, we ain't seen nothing compared to the complexities of the Mobile world.

#12 AbleReach

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Posted 10 March 2006 - 03:08 AM

My fantasy is that mobiles will be able to read web sites out loud for less than the cost of a screen reader, eventually being able to plug into a desktop PC and act as a sort of a mobile screen reader. :thumbup_baby:

Am I dreaming?

#13 PaulWalsh

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Posted 10 March 2006 - 05:26 AM

My fantasy is that mobiles will be able to read web sites out loud for less than the cost of a screen reader, eventually being able to plug into a desktop PC and act as a sort of a mobile screen reader. :thumbup_baby:

Am I dreaming?

View Post


You're not dreaming. Wouldn't you say everyone would benefit from a screen reader on mobile devices. Think about a user driving a car, wouldn't it make sense for them to be able to quickly locate something on the mobile web through voice? - they obviously shouldn't be looking at the screen while driving.

#14 bwelford

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Posted 10 March 2006 - 08:55 AM

If I may be allowed to resurface my question, I'm still wondering whether it's right to bundle all the non-desktop PC's under the handheld media label.

A typical top-scale PDA has a relatively large screen. For example consider the Palm TX:
  • Screen Size (diagonal): 3.8 inches
  • Screen resolution 320 x 480
Now we see announcements for the Ultra-Mobile PC from Microsoft. It has an interesting screen size.
  • Approximately 7Ē diagonal display (or smaller)
  • Minimum 800 x 480 resolution
Perhaps the powers that be should be splitting the handheld category into the minis (to use rmccarley's term) and the micros. Is there any thought of doing this?

#15 Guest_joedolson_*

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Posted 11 March 2006 - 07:08 AM

It does seem like there's a trend towards devices sporting an enormous range of screen sizes - and a device like Microsoft's Origami clearly doesn't require the same kind of treatment as some of the truly tiny screens.

I'm wondering, though, how much value there is in defining a three-tiered difference?

Ideal, I think, would be to find a single definition for small-screen use which was able to support the wider variety of screen sizes.

Here's a thought: If handheld devices could send their screen resolutions to the server when requesting a page, the browser could select a rendering profile taking those dimension into consideration. Designers could create styles based on screen-size ranges. Screen resolutions/dimensions haven't been used for desktops, and given that windows can be changed in size on a desktop I think that wouldn't make sense. However, a handheld is much more likely to provide a fixed window size.

On a side note, I'm intrigued by the repurposing of terms like 'mini' and 'micro' from computing of a decade ago . . . minicomputers and microcomputers definitely don't carry the same meanings anymore! :)

#16 PaulWalsh

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Posted 11 March 2006 - 08:00 AM

Here's a thought: If handheld devices could send their screen resolutions to the server when requesting a page, the browser could select a rendering profile taking those dimension into consideration. 

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Devices don't 'send' their screen resolutions to the server. However, content adaptation providers establish what device you're using and then render the content according to the capabilities of that device.

By implementing best practice design techniques such as the Web Content Accessibility guidelines, you increase the chances of your site working on multiple device types. Then you have the Mobile Web Initiative best practices... the MWI techniques should really help designers/developers to build websites that work across mobile devices as well as desktop PCs.

Paul

#17 PaulWalsh

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Posted 11 March 2006 - 08:08 AM

If I may be allowed to resurface my question, I'm still wondering whether it's right to bundle all the non-desktop PC's under the handheld media label.

Good question. In fact, this is a question weíre still asking ourselves in the MWI. IMHO, it doesnít really matter unless you start to talk about mobile Ďphoneí profiles and the specific capabilities that can be exploited.

Itís about designing a site that will work on small screens such as mobile phones, smart phones and PDAs.

I personally think it would become too complicated if we tried to break it down even further. Technically speaking, a laptop could be deemed a mobile device :)

Paul

#18 Guest_joedolson_*

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Posted 11 March 2006 - 08:12 AM

Devices don't 'send' their screen resolutions to the server. However, content adaptation providers establish what device you're using and then render the content according to the capabilities of that device.


I guess I should clarify what I meant. I phrased the statement rather carelessly - what I meant was that a handheld devices could send a specification of their screen size as part of the http request headers, thus leaving this information accessible to server-side or client-side technologies providing content to that device. Although sending a device identifier would also provide the same functionality, specifying the device window <em>size</em> would allow the request headers to be handled using numeric ranges.

I'm speaking hypothetically - I'm aware that devices don't send this information - but they could.

I routinely apply WCAG best practices, and they do make most pages fully usable on a wide range of devices. This is merely an idea as to a way of providing alternate style information to a wide area of handheld devices, which may need different information.

Obviously, this would be ineffective when it comes to handheld browsers which don't handle style information.

#19 rmccarley

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Posted 13 March 2006 - 01:53 PM

If I may be allowed to resurface my question, I'm still wondering whether it's right to bundle all the non-desktop PC's under the handheld media label.

A typical top-scale PDA has a relatively large screen.  For example consider the Palm TX:

  • Screen Size (diagonal): 3.8 inches
  • Screen resolution  320 x 480
Now we see announcements for the Ultra-Mobile PC from Microsoft.  It has an interesting screen size.
  • Approximately 7Ē diagonal display (or smaller)
  • Minimum 800 x 480 resolution
Perhaps the powers that be should be splitting the handheld category into the minis (to use rmccarley's term) and the micros.  Is there any thought of doing this?

View Post

Barry the new MS handheld still supports "regular" (desktop) browsers including full IE and (presumably) FF. So really what will happen with that is people that use absolute dimensions may have content clipped with a horizontal scrollbar appearing. As I recall though, it supports a minimum 800x??? resolution so if you've been designing for 800x600 you should be fine (which you should be doing anyway).

As to the rest I think it's well covered - design for W3C and Assesability standards, stay away from absolute positioning and use a second style sheet for mobile/mini/whatever devices.

#20 PaulWalsh

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Posted 13 March 2006 - 02:00 PM

As to the rest I think it's well covered - design for W3C and Assesability standards, stay away from absolute positioning and use a second style sheet for mobile/mini/whatever devices.

View Post


The best markup we can recommend right now is XHTML-MP. A second CSS is a good idea but unfortunately not all mobile devices support CSS :(

I'll come back as soon as the first draft W3C MWI techniques document is ready! This should provide better advice than my one liners.

Cheers
Paul

#21 sandpetra

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Posted 25 June 2006 - 06:56 AM

Does anyone know the market shares for mobile devices - handhels? How many people actually use these things?

#22 bwelford

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Posted 25 June 2006 - 07:22 AM

I can't quote references but from what I've read the handheld market is much bigger than the desktop market, particularly in Europe and it's growing much faster everywhere.


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