Saturday, June 09, 2012

Mobile Web Technologies

Smartphone usage has skyrocketed in the past few years. As a result, the number of users accessing websites (including yours) from a mobile device has skyrocketed. To date, almost 30% of Internet usage is now from a mobile phone or tablet.

Contrast this to just a few years ago, when smartphones (and I use the term liberally) had to make do with WAP, served over GPRS — a crippled, baby version of the internet.


The way we use the Internet today, from our mobile devices, is a natural evolution, reflecting the growing needs of modern civilisation. But what caused this? Three factors.

  • Growing customer needs.
  • Faster, more capable hardware, including much larger displays.
  • Better software. Mobile device software is now primarily written by software companies, like Apple, Google, and Microsoft, and not by hardware companies, such as Nokia and RIM (BlackBerry).
  • Faster mobile Internet speeds. This point shouldn't be understated. Faster mobile Internet allows for a much richer user experience.

Arguably, it all started with this:

The original iPhone, released in 2007, fundamentally changed the smartphone game.

Apple introduced a mobile phone that shipped with an extraordinary application: a desktop-class web browser. Here was a browser that can display the full version of the Internet: complete with support for JavaScript, cookies, forms, HTTPS, rich typography and CSS support, and much more.

Naturally, other manufacturers followed suit, companies iterated and improved their products, opened up to lower-end markets, and so on. Such is progress.

This statistic bears repeating: today, almost 30% of all data traffic is to a mobile device. Quite something.

Dogma, Myths, and Web Design Foibles

A potential readership that large is hard to ignore, so developers have been crafting websites that work great on mobile devices. Some guidelines have been drawn up, describing best practices for web developers. However, because of the rapidly improving nature of mobile devices, not to mention a whole new class of devices: the tablet, the guidelines that most web developers adhere to is woefully out of date.
It's time to let go of a few myths surrounding mobile web development.

  • The mobile web and the web are not two separate things. They're one and the same.
  • You don't necessarily have to design separate websites for mobile devices and standard web browsers. One website can easily be made to work great on both classes.
  • People are using their mobile browsers, all the time, and for longer-form reading. No need to serve a condensed or crippled version

Classes of Mobile Device

There are several classes of mobile devices that have access to the Internet. Different classes have different levels of interaction. For example, a low-end €50 mobile phone with a 1.5" display, embedded CPU, and access to 2G-only data is not likely to encourage users to access the Internet, read their emails, and so on, for any long period of time.

Mid-range mobile phones were a very popular, high-volume market until recently. These phones were not classified as smart phones, but they have rudimentary-to-sophisticated web support. Most of this market has been taken over by low-end smartphones with much richer Internet support.


Smartphones make up the majority of the mobile Internet market today. They typically have large high-resolution touchscreen displays, with powerful multi-core processors. The browsing experience on smartphones is very good, however, users often need to zoom in to read the content comfortably (usually a simple gesture).


Tablets are a huge, growing market. As of today, sales have grown by a massive 328% year-on-year. In the UK, 12% of the population now owns a tablet. This is an area with potentially the most growth. While they didn't invent the tablet, Apple (with the iPad) has once again been instrumental in bringing the modern incarnation to users.

Tablets usually run smartphone operating systems, such as iOS or Android, but because of their large screens, they approach a somewhat desktop-like experience for web browsing. Combined with their portability, huge battery life, and (oft-included) support for mobile Internet, this booming market doesn't look like slowing down any time soon.


It's easy to see that mobile devices are a growing part of how users access the web. Not factoring in how your website looks on a mobile device is a potentially huge mistake, causing you to lose viewership and reader engagement.

Make no mistake, the mobile Internet is the future, and it's already here.

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