Accommodating Users on Mobile Devices
Yes the mobile web is growing. Increasingly users are visiting websites through mobile devices and this trend is expected to increase over time. What then should you be doing to accommodate these users? Unfortunately there is not one simple answer. However we can look at four options to consider:
1. Do nothing
The thinking here is that as mobile devices mature the dream of platform independence for a website will be met. This means that even though visitors are viewing your website on a mobile device it will render as it should because the mobile device has a full fledged, standards compliant browser built in. The introduction of the iPhone was a big step in this direction as it uses a full version of the Safari browser so websites look great. However, currently many mobile devices offer minimal browser capabilities.
2. Deliver a stripped down version of your website
The idea here is to strip images and visual elements away and render your website as more of a text based website. Even a cell phone with minimal browser capabilities will be able to render such a stripped down, text based version. The pros here are that your website will be fast loading and the website won’t chew up bandwidth limits for mobile device users. The con here is that your website, though usable, will not be super pretty.
3. Use a separate style sheet
In theory this works great. You simply add an alternate stylesheet targeting mobile devices and style the website differently for that device. This works best on standards based websites that have made a clean break between content and design. A non-standard, table based website will have trouble because design and content are mixed, which limits the power of a stylesheet. Regardless, the problem here is that support by mobile device manufacturers for recognizing the alternate stylesheet (and rendering the stylesheet code correctly) has been thin.
4. Create a second version of the website
The pros to this method are that you are delivering an optimized mobile website to mobile devices. However, the cons to this method are obvious. What’s less fun than maintaining one website? Um. How about maintaining two! Integration between your mobile and non-mobile versions of the website can be tricky (to put it lightly). Also the W3C (the organization that oversees the internet) frowns upon this method as they move in the direction of platform independence. This method is also very costly.
So those are four options for accommodating users with mobile devices. Personally, I tend to lean towards doing nothing. I say that for two reasons.
First, I know that a standards based website will render better in a mobile device than an older table based counterpart. This website, for example, will be readable on a cell phone even though I’ve never done anything specific to optimize it for mobile devices.
Second, mobile devices are evolving very quickly and browser capabilities on these devices are advancing as well. In a few years all mobile devices may have advanced, standards compliant browsers built in, which makes a large investment in designing a mobile version of your websites a temporary (and costly) fix.
My advice: If you are concerned about the mobile web make sure your website is standards compliant. That alone will help your website render in all mobile devices and your standards based code will be something can use going forward much more than retro fitting for the limitations of today’s mobile devices.