Cameron’s Mobile Web Design 15 Aug 2005

16 comments Latest by Joe

Cameron has a great four-part series on Mobile Web Design going over on his blog. So far he’s published Part One: State of the Mobile Web and Part Two: Methods to the Madness. “Part Three: Tips & Techniques,” and “Part Four: Application in the Real World” are on the way. Do check them out.

My take, from Part Two, goes like this…

Jason Fried, 37signals founder, doesn’t mince words when confronting the practical issues of Device Independence. “We think the idea of write-once-run-anywhere is a pipe dream,” Jason opines. “Sure, your H1s and H2s and LIs will degrade gracefully, but it’s not just about how something looks, it’s about how something works. What’s important are people’s priorities on different platforms. People on a phone and people on a computer shouldn’t necessarily see the same thing with different paint, they should see an entirely different picture. Different form, different function, and different priority.”

What say you?

16 comments so far (Jump to latest)

Fred 15 Aug 05

Yeah, I think its best to create a div, hide it, and keep a basic intro and contact information for all the hardcore blackberry / phone browsers. If they want to read your bio, they’ll just have to hop on a computer.

Terrence Wood 15 Aug 05

I was excited about write once and css by device a couple of years a go, but my thinking has since come around to agree with Jasons: different device’s have different needs.

The ultimate solution is probably write once and transform server-side based on content negotiation, but this is a few years away (if at all).

Jim Jeffers 16 Aug 05

I agree. For my own web application I’m developing I’ve created a web form that’s hidden from the browser but displayed in the mobile stylesheet that allows the user to login immediately to a different dash that just offers core functionality.

I figured my users visiting the site through their mobile devices will most likely have already created their account via their web browser so they won’t want to see or hear the marketing mumbo jumbo about it’s benfits. The dash itself only allows the mobile users to do basic on the fly maintanence rather than detailed work and gives basic reports.. only stuff you’d have time to check or care about on the fly. The rest just get’s in the way.

David 16 Aug 05

You get a big, hearty AMEN.

I’ve really appreciated how you guys are more concerned with user experience than touting something as valid code or other such bits.

James 16 Aug 05

Yep, largely agree there, even though this is bordering on heresy in some circles. On the other hand, there are areas where valid markup alone is enough to make a website truly cross-platform.

It might be frustrating as hell to use a mobile to access a regular website for ticket bookings or online banking, but there’s no reason a news website couldn’t be perfectly accessible without major re-jigging. Hi Terrence.

elv 16 Aug 05

It’s not a black or white world :
- if you create a “regular” website, say corporate or blog, a site people on cell phones have no reason to browse other than reading the content, then the CSS way may well be adequate;
- if your site really has a cell phone (and/or PDA) audience for specific tasks, like booking tickets or looking for discounts, then you’d better design it for them.

Anyway I think people shouldn’t browse the web on cellphones, except for those specific tasks. But I still don’t understand why people get excited at watching Star Wars on a tiny cell phone screen, so I may miss the point ;)

Eamon 16 Aug 05

I don’t know if I’d go so far as to say “pipe dream”, but the fact is that some applications are well suited to both screen and handheld, and some aren’t. For instance, we have a ton of really detailed reporting, and every single page works beautifully on our Treos just by making some judicious alterations using the “handheld” CSS media type. That said, on the same site, one of the management interfaces proved impossible for translation to the handheld— just too many elements for such a small screen. It depends.

Darrel 16 Aug 05

For content distribution, I don’t see any reason to build two interfaces. Well structured markup, unobtrusive javascript, and CSS should all accomodate nearly any device just fine.

For web applications, I agree that the audience is different between the two devices (even if it’s the same person) and that the tasks one would want to do on a handheld are likely different enough from the desktop tasks that they’d warrant a separate interface.

Cameron Moll 16 Aug 05

“For content distribution, I don�t see any reason to build two interfaces. Well structured markup, unobtrusive javascript, and CSS should all accomodate nearly any device just fine.”

That’s the other half of the pipe dream right now, Darrel. Standards are virtually non-existent in the mobile web space, so even the most semantic, CSS-replete site currently displays poorly or improperly on a variety of devices.

Max 16 Aug 05

Totally agree! 600 million phones are sold every year. Surely it’s worth making an effort to repurpose (assuming your site/service offers anything of real value to mobile user…)?

If you want to go multiplatform, the flexibility needs to run all the way down to the architecture of your site/backend, rather than leaving it all to the surface/presentation layer. Don’t assume that anything you know about the web translates directly to mobiles (simple example: browsing is pretty easy on a PC, whereas many phone can’t even find the browser on their phone - maybe mobile browsing isn’t the way to go for your service?).

Wesley Walser 17 Aug 05

The articles coming from Cameron are great, but these isn’t much hope for right now in them. (not that this is a bad thing, there might not be much, and as always with Cameron I don’t want to undercut the quality of the articles or his work (He’s amazing people))

In his next article he will cover how to approach things, but up to this point he has told us what doesn’t work and why, but if all of those things don’t work, then even if we build a separate “mobile friendly” site how do we know it will display correctly?

Cameron Moll 18 Aug 05

The other day I jokingly said to a friend, “These mobile articles will be frequented a whole lot more in a year than they will right now.” So in some ways you’re correct, Wesley. We’re slowly getting there. But rest assured there are those who deal with it daily already, and if we can pave the way to make it easier for them and the rest of us, we’ll have done what we set out to do.

charlie 26 Aug 05

jason, you are so right.

i’ve been harping about the problem that, for most folks, mobile is an afterthought. not only that, but when they do tack on mobile features, it’s usually with the mind-set that it’s ‘just’ a smaller screen.

the mobile thing is, as you say, a whole different experience - the mobile experience. you have to understand the way people do things while mobile, not just the restrictions of the platform and network.

i have a long list of services where mobile is missing or inadequetly served, mostly becuase i think the companies do not have anyone who actually understands the mobile lifestyle (better for me).

hmm, i was checking out basecamp today and haven’t found any mobile features, though i can think of a few things where mobile could help.



maybe it’s not about device independence but device relevance.