Formatting for a “mobile web” is out

By 17 March 2012Posts
By Louis Eksteen
When mobile phones introduced limited internet functionality a few years ago a distinction was made between the “mobile internet” or “mobile web” and the “real” internet, to indicate a different or special way to access the network. But in reality all this entailed practically was for web sites to be formatted for small screens to enable seemingly easier navigation from the previous generation of mobile phones. (It was also the era of rich media delivered via premium rated SMS codes to phones, but that’s a whole other topic.)
This distinction between accessing the internet via either a mobile phone or a computer became increasingly unnecessary as multi-functional smartphones were produced that could match a computer’s internet access experience. These days the current crop of Apple-, Windows- and Android-powered smartphones (and tablets) are sophisticated enough not to need specially formatted sites to enable a full internet experience.
I would argue it is superfluous to run differently formatted sites.
The New York Times site does not default to an “m.” or, even worse, “.mobi” format when accessed from a smartphone. The site displayed is the normal internet site, easily navigated via a phone (and tablet, of course). The Los Angeles Times by contrast defaults to an article-list mobile formatted site when accessed from a phone. This is irritating and one has to navigate to the full site manually to really experience the full site.
Of course one’s experience depends on the mobile device used, so a differentiation can be made between smartphone and feature phone access.
My view is the same internet is accessed and to make out as if a “mobile web” exists is confusing. These days if a phone is capable of accessing the internet at all, it’s not necessary to format specifically for it.
Apart from the way in which apps enrich an internet experience via mobile devices, their much more interesting capability is the ability to provide geographically relevant functionality. As time goes by e-commerce linked to geographical location, with information provided by mobile devices, will seamlessly become an integral part of an enriched internet experience, through the normal internet. This happens via apps and sites (although even this distinction is outdated as it really does not matter to a user if they’re accessing the internet via a browser or an app, or, actually, via a mobile device or not).
Google is a front runner in geo-relevant search, pushed to mobile devices. They’re clever at determining exactly what device is being used for a specific search query. In addition they are increasingly adept at running advertising relevant to the mobility of today’s internet devices. This is an area in which it is clearly beneficial to target mobile devices specifically, as it is known where the device is located while the ad is being served.
Advanced apps that use geographical location information to enrich internet access naturally also require smart mobile access. Data predicting the growth of smart phones from cellular companies indicate huge growth in smart mobile, which means that even though not all mobile internet access is created equal, development should be done at the high end to ensure relevance over time. (Interestingly, the promise of augmented reality applications that provide relevant information to a smart mobile device, depending on where you are, has not yet found commercial viability, but perhaps it can become useful in time.)
The speed at which developers have pushed out new high definition graphics for apps to run optimally on the new iPad’s HD display indicates the trend is clearly to produce for the highest possible standard in mobile devices. In this sophisticated app world the old idea of formatting web sites for mobile screens is out of date.
The way in which to deliver content and utility specifically to a smartphone is via an app, not with a differently formatted web site just because it’s accessed by a phone’s web browser.
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