In the past few years, one of the biggest areas of change for the Web has been the amount of Internet users who are accessing websites via their mobile devices. You are probably aware of the facts: today, 71% of smartphone owners are browsing the Internet (88% of iPhone users do, 92% for Android). And this trend isn't going to stop: 4 billion mobile subscribers worldwide are expected by the end of 2010(1).
However, accessing Web content on a mobile device is still a rather inconsistent experience. Dozens of mobile browsers exist, each with different rendering capabilities. Designing and building mobile sites brings some unique situations and challenges. For web developers, optimising websites for mobile browsers is often a painful and difficult process.
But things are changing: the latest mobile browsers, available on the iDevices (iPhone, iPod, iPad) and Android phones (Nexus One, Motorola Droid) are game changing, offering a much superior browsing experience to their users. Amazing results can be achieved, as web developers are now able to make use of the latest web technologies, even on mobile devices.
It comes as no surprise that the US mobile browser usage is now dominated by the iPhone, with 64%(2), and Android, which comes second at 19%. Both Apple and Google are pushing mobile browsing, and empower their users with tools far ahead of the competition.
But whether or not you decide to focus your mobile strategy on the iDevices and Android specifically, here are a few things to consider when going mobile:
The key to a successful mobile site is simplification: simpler navigation, fewer options (especially in web apps), a reduced amount of text, and possibly fewer images. While webpages made for the desktop often get crowded (banners/ads, huge blocks of text, countless buttons and links etc.), mobile websites have to remain simple. What is important on the page has to be kept, but the rest should be cut out. Less is definitely more on mobile. With fewer (carefully selected) options available to the mobile user, the site gains usability and the viewer is likely to continue browsing your site.
Because of the limited bandwidth on mobile devices, as well as the inherent hardware limitations, an important focus has to be put on optimisation (load speed, image compression). Your visitors using mobile devices do not need high definition pictures, neither do they need ambient sounds or music. Pages have to be leaner, so users are spared excessive bandwidth costs and enjoy a faster browsing experience.
What is crucial in your mobile strategy is to put "function before form" and present users with a customised experience, relevant to mobility. Your mobile site has to be contextually relevant to your users, and first address how content is consumed. If you are an online reseller, you might want to put the search bar at the top of your page and a quick way to find a local store (which are the most likely actions users will need on mobile); if you're a small business with an online presence, you would probably need quick access to your phone number (e.g. a "Call us" button) and address (e.g. "here's our address, view it on a map"). The logic is that your viewers who are accessing the website are on the go and probably have something very specific in mind!
Do not neglect the Mobile Web
Having a mobile website doesn't mean removing images from your website. It deserves it's own strategy and requires dedicated development. As the number of users browsing the Web from mobile devices continues to rise, you cannot miss the opportunity to shine!
Mobile Subscribers to Reach 2.6B This Year
- Net Applications, February 2010