With the release of the iPhone and now the iPod Touch, its clear we’re headed on a slightly divergent path when it comes to Web standards and mobile devices:
- Mobile devices are getting more powerful from a raw CPU-horsepower perspective. They can do more.
- Displays in general are getting bigger and resolutions are improving.
It’s also clear that the capabilities of these devices will only get better. While it’s niche today, it’ll be the norm tomorrow to have a near-desktop browsing experience in the palm of your hand. This raises two questions for me:
- Are we (the web designers and developers of the world) wasting our time targeting woefully watered-down versions of our platforms for your typical cell phone?
- Should we stop thinking about “versions” of the same content (a “mobile version” and a “full web version”) and instead start thinking about how to make one version gracefully degrade to the limitations of a mobile device?
As for question 1, I think the answer is “yes.” As much as we tried to make it happen for years, nobody is shopping on Amazon or searching through eBay on the typical flip mobile phone. It’s too painful and frankly, it just plain sucks. So why design for it? As for WAP: it’s a technology that has two things going against it: (1) Nobody asked for it and (2) it sucks.
Question 2 is far more interesting. Even with the iPhone, a device that comes with a fully capable browser, developers felt compelled to come out with iPhone versions of their apps. Why? Maybe there’s too much stuff going in our web destinations anyway. Been to Espn.com lately or any of the Major League Baseball franchise sites? They are the web design equivalent of Times Square. Even well regarded sites like New York Times & CNN pummel you with information.
Let’s face it, when you first saw that Apple ad where the user navigates around NY Times and zooms into a column, you couldn’t help but raise your eyebrows. It looked damn cool. Coolness and usefulness, unfortunately, don’t always jive. That’s why the good folks at Blue Flavor put out – you guessed it – an iPhone version of the NY Times (along with all kinds of neat iPhone ports called Leaflets). Truth is, it wasn’t very usable.
As designers, we need to design towards what appears to be a new goal that is materializing: The Almost Web. It’s not completely dumbed-down, but its also not a drop-all-the-content-at-once free-for-all. Grab the bottom-right corner of your browser and see how your design reacts as you take it to 400 pixels wide. Increase and decrease the size of fonts and see how your containers behave. It’s a new challenge: can we produce one version of our content that gracefully fills and morphs to accommodate the various clients we’re going to be using?
So c’mon kids, start thinking about this new waypoint we’re inevitably heading towards. It ain’t your mama’s mobile web and it ain’t that fancy 1920×1200 screen you’re staring at either either. It’s somewhere in between. It’s a healthy reset.
Until then, I’ll keep navigating to the place that most closely mimics how the Almost Web should feel: printer-friendly pages. One of my favorite hacks is to tag printer-friendly pages on del.icio.us and then retrieve them on my PSP or Treo. It’s a shortcut out of Times Square.