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Do I Need A Different Website For Mobile Surfers?


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#1 Red Davy

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Posted 30 December 2008 - 04:47 PM

Hi folks.

What's the current recommendation on helping a website be seen properly on a mobile phone (iphone, android, blackberry, whatever).

Do I need to work with someone to create a new version of my website designed for mobile? And if so, how do I send the mobile browser to this version?

Do I need to register .mobi domains?

Or are the phones doing the work for me, and for the most part, can my website been seen OK on a modern phone with browsing capabilities?

Lastly, I've searched, but would like some recommendations of any sites that can emulate how my site would look on a mobile device. (so I don't have to actually try it on all of them).

Thanks.

-Andy

#2 phaithful

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Posted 30 December 2008 - 07:13 PM

Many of the popular mobile devices will identify themselves by 'user-agent' in the http headers. So when your web server detects one of these mobile browsers, you can have the web server send the mobile version of your site.

I actually haven't run into too many .mobi sites, so I don't think they're really necessary.

I think the general rule of thumb is to provide the core functionality in a simple to use manner for mobile devices. Most people don't have the expectation that they'll have the complete feature set available to them, although it would be nice to have.

#3 Red Davy

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Posted 30 December 2008 - 07:24 PM

Thanks Phaithful,

Seems a version of the site built for mobile, combined with a re-direct to that site based on the 'user-agent' is the way to go. Although the client won't like to hear we need to spend more time working on a "mobile version" of the website.

I tried surfing the client's website with a blackberry running IE, and while it was OK, I could certainly see the value of a mobile version of the site, designed with that screen size, different colors, etc, in mind.

-Andy

#4 phaithful

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Posted 30 December 2008 - 07:39 PM

It really all boils down to a business case then. Does your client "need" a mobile version? Is there a demand there and are you able to recoup the cost of development for a mobile specific site?

If the answers are 'no', then you might want to re-think the strategy of having a mobile site for the sake of having a mobile site. Right now, at least in the US it's perfectly acceptable to have a sub-par mobile experience ... mostly because your competitors probably have a sub-par mobile experience.

The case is not the same in Asia. Because of the high usage and penetration of mobile devices, having a mobile version of the site is less about increasing their users or monetization, but more to keep up with the expectations of the users.

#5 DonnaFontenot

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Posted 30 December 2008 - 08:41 PM

Using CSS? If so, you can have a mobile version of the CSS file that displays to mobile clients. That's the "relatively easy" way to go.

#6 Guest_joedolson_*

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Posted 30 December 2008 - 09:01 PM

I'm pretty much with everybody else here - using the 'handheld' media type with a separate CSS style type is an easy and cheap way to adapt your website generically for handheld devices. Worth having for just about any site.

For some sites, there can be a valid business case for a separate and independent mobile site which greatly streamlines the functions and behaviors of the site to only offer the parts of the site which are truly relevant to the mobile use-case. if the business has a particularly feature which would be of significant interest to mobile populations - something they can do easily while on the road, while traveling between two locations, etc., then it's possibly worth investing in a separate mobile application which performs JUST that functionality.

#7 Black_Knight

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Posted 31 December 2008 - 01:24 AM

There's two separate facets to this question.

So far, everyone is giving you great advice for the first facet: How to allow for mobile browsers as easily as possible. On that basis, I can't fault their answers or hope to improve on them.

But there is that second facet: What else could be done about mobile internet browsing. Not limiting ourselves to either short-term thinking or ease of application. That's because most of the biggest leaps in business are not about what is easy or short-term. At heart, investment of any kind is about gambling - hopefully with calculated odds.

We all expect mobile internet access to increase considerably over the coming years. The gamble you'd have to consider is how that growth will take shape. Will small-screen personal devices gain better and better resolution to basically show the 'Net the same way home users do? An iPhone actually copes with a lot of sites pretty well, without any modifications. Or, will mobile devices continue to need special consideration for the very limited screen sizes etc?

Whichever way it goes, I think there's a good chance that the .mobi domain will be a smart investment for specialist mobile-search sites and directories.

So, my advice is to do some careful thinking, calculating odds, and working out where risk best becomes reward. Because in business, investing and taking risks are where the big margins are found.

#8 JohnMu

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Posted 31 December 2008 - 04:47 AM

Mobile web browsing has been waiting for a long time to come out in a big way. It seems like it's always around the corner :infinite-banana:

Personally, a few things come to mind ...

* Infrastructure has to be in place to allow people to use the web on a mobile device. I think we're pretty close now - with iPhones, Androids & Blackberrys combined with some high-volume mobile data plans. I bought an Android phone 2 months ago and use it every day to browse the web (mail, reader, friendfeed, forums, etc).

* Websites have to be available in a way that makes them usable on a mobile device. Using CSS is a great start, but PLEASE if your page template is 500kb, don't just slap a new stylesheet in place: set up a mobile template that serves minimal HTML baggage. Download speeds are still limited and some people pay a lot per megabyte transfered. WordPress has a nice mobile plugin that does this based on the user-agent: http://alexking.org/...-mobile-edition (though I don't know how it works with iphones / androids and such). Keep in mind that just because your stats don't show mobile users doesn't mean that they wouldn't use your site if they could :infinite-banana:. Also, if you have a blog - providing a full RSS feed means that people will be able to read your blog on almost any mobile device (in a RSS reader) regardless of your templates.

* Depending on your website, it might make sense to change the workflow to make it work better on a mobile browser. The local train company here should really do this, their site works fine in a desktop browser but is unusable on a mobile one because the workflow just doesn't work right.

* If you want to be really slick, consider creating a mobile application for your site. The sweet thing about Android is that when you create something there, you can (theoretically :infinite-banana: ) re-use it on any Android device. What could your site do better if for instance you knew the exact location of the user right away? What could you provide to users on the run, perhaps even without requiring online access all the time?

If you want to get started playing with these devices, I'd recommend looking around for emulators. You can usually run them on your desktop (sometimes even within a browser) and they'll show you more or less what your site would look like. For Android, you can get the SDK (it has an emulator). I don't know where the iPhone emulator is (but I think I've seen one).

John

#9 eKstreme

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Posted 31 December 2008 - 05:08 AM

I have some experience building a mobile site, for my web app Cligs. If you browse to Cligs using a mobile device, it automatically detects that it's a mobile browser and sends you a much lighter template. The mobile template pulls a custom CSS file which is also very compact and just does the basics. The images are also optimized.

The total investment in getting this to work is minimal as I coded the backend to allow on-the-fly changing of the output template. So all I needed to do was detect the mobile phone (20% of work to build the detection regular expression), build a mobile template (the other 80%) and add an if statement (0%).

This is a big topic, and as mentioned, is a major business decision. It affects your reach, branding, customer loyalty, SEO, development decisions, not to mention serious street cred that generates some buzz. To talk about all these aspects will require a tome so I'll just leave you with some more resources you really should read:
Good luck!

Pierre

#10 bwelford

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Posted 31 December 2008 - 02:39 PM

Stephanie Hobbs has an important post on Local Searches Set to Flip to Mobile Phone, that is worth reading in this context.

#11 mregan

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Posted 05 April 2009 - 12:56 PM

With the cell phone rates so high up here in Canada it hasn't been a problem for us yet - but I expect we will have to get into mobile for our clients some time soon.

No one has mentioned cross platform problems. How much of a problem is that? For example would I need to make separate style sheets for a BlackBerry vs an iPhone?

I don't have access to a lot of mobile devices, which is one of the other reasons we aren't designing for them yet. So how do you handle all the different aspect ratios? And, does something like changing orientation on an iPhone from vertical to horizontal require a different css?

MR


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