Podcast 47: The mobile web

In this week’s show, we look at why you should take the mobile web seriously. What potential pitfalls you will face and what options are available to you for utilising mobile technology.

There are three times as many mobile phones than personal computers. By 2009, it is predicted that there will be 3 billion mobile phones worldwide. This week on boagworld, we discuss an evolution of the web almost as profound at the arrival of the internet itself… the mobile web.

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The mobile web

Without a doubt, it will not be long before more people access the web via mobile devices than desktop PCs. However this huge (and potentially lucrative market) is not without its pitfalls. With over 40 mobile browsers and 160 devices, the mobile web makes the browser wars look like a walk in the park.

In this week’s show, we look at why you should take the mobile web seriously? What potential pitfalls you will face and what options are available to you for utilising mobile technology.

Most of the discussion is based around presentations given by Tom Humes at last years d.construct and Cameron Moll at this year’s @media. They know much more about the subject than either of us and so we highly recommend you take the time to download their talks and hear what they have to say for yourself:

Also on this week’s show

Once again, I antagonise up every mac user on the planet by quoting from Jakob Nielsen’s new book on prioritising web usability. We talk about the recent list of IE6 fixes that will appear in IE7 and discuss both Refresh 06 and d.construct. I also recommend John Allsopp’s latest article on Microformats, which is ideal for those who want to track their growing popularity.

We review two books on this week’s show:

Beginning JavaScript with DOM Scripting and Ajax

Web Accessibility: Web Standards and Regulatory Compliance

Finally, if you haven’t seen it yet check out the superb demo by our sponsor RightCart and see just how fast it is to integrate a shopping cart into your site.

  • Another great show :)
    I even got a mention ref the Outlook image blocking!!
    Looking forward to the redesign Paul – there ya go, 3 weeks and counting so you’d better get a shimmy on!! :)
    Marcus: Bad joke but made me laugh!
    Cheers guys…

  • On Jakob Nielsen’s economic argument about Macs…
    You have to ask yourself who owns the Macs and whot kind of people they are. I’ve never done any research but I’d bet they’re mainly:
    – Based in the West (especially UK/America)
    – Work in creative industries such as Design, Advertising, Film, TV etc
    – Style conscious
    – Affluent
    I think the economic argument holds water if your site is aimed at people in the third world. But if you’re a business trying to a service to the creative industries then it would be commercial suicide to discount Macs.
    Likewise a site aimed mainly at primary schools in England would be fairly safe assuming the use of a PC, but a site aimed at selling gadgets to 20-30 yr old single men with money to burn wouldn’t be.
    Looking at the stats for one or two of my sites the percentages for Macs range from 6-16%.
    Ask any shop owner if they’d willingly turn 1 person in 10 away from their shop? If they say yes they’re a liar or they’ll go bust very soon.
    Given you NEED to make sure your site works in Firefox the extra effort to make it look OK in Safari will range from nothing to a very small amount of work.
    Personally, I think the ROI on this extra effort is worth it even for a small business.
    Unless you market is exclusivly third-world villagers.

  • I’d agree. If you’re audience is the graphic design community, then of course you should ensure the site is viewable on a mac. Although I’m pretty sure Paul and Marcus say that anyway.
    As for the mobile web, with the costs of browsing so ridiculously high, I can’t see the take up being as great as predicted by some in the industry. The technology is definitely there, but until the prices come down I can’t see many clients really wanting to invest too much into supporting handheld devices. I certainly wouldn’t advise any clients to go any further than a handheld CSS file. Yet.

  • Aussie John

    4:20 IE 7 fixes
    5:50 Web Usability
    10:30 confrences, Deconstruct
    11:35 Microformats
    Q & C
    12:25 Beta
    16:54 Bookmarks
    18:39 Sony device
    19:45 mobile web
    24:05 Browsers
    25:55 Different experience from PC
    28:15 Do nothing
    30:30 strip out for mobile device
    30:25 Different expectations from pc
    34:05 specific Style sheet
    35:25 Seperate version for mobile device
    40:40 Ultimate question
    43:00 The Opportunaty for designers and developers
    43:40 Getting Burnt
    45:28 book on javascript and ajax
    48:05 web usability book
    50:18 podvine
    50:40 headscape
    50:54 rightcart
    52:55 joke

  • Mark Stephenson

    Great podcast again guys!
    @Richard: I totally agree. It’s idiotic not to cater for your intended audience. BTW I hope you’re bringing some pasties to d.construct.

  • Aussie John

    Take solace paul, at least I listen to your whole show. Shame on those people who use my notes to skip through the pod cast.

  • Travis

    Cheers for the tip about rightcart, it looks awesome. By the way, a new MAC centre just opened in Istanbul.

  • Hi, thanks again for another great podcast.
    I think you (and Jacob) are slightly missing the point, its not MACs as such, it’s more the actual browser (Safari) that people may not be testing for. (yes i realise Safari is only on MACs but read on)
    As we all know its possible to use FireFox on a MAC and they currently hold 27.1%[1] of the browser market so you should be testing for this. (so MAC users can use these sites)
    [1] http://www.w3schools.com/browsers/browsers_stats.asp
    This kind of makes the 2% of the personal computer market being held by MAC irrelevant in this perspective. Surely it would be more important to talk about the % of the market Safari has?
    What does everyone else think?

  • The browser stats on http://www.w3schools.com is for their web site only. And as most of the people visiting the site have more of an interest in the web, it is more likely that they will be using Firefox etc.
    See The Counter > http://www.thecounter.com/stats/ for more of an overview of browser stats.

  • Thanks for that site, valid point. I assumed they took their results from a number of various sources/sites, but I guess not.
    You can still get FF and IE (yes its not too good) for the MAC though, so if a site doesnt work or render well in Safari they can always use the others.

  • Marcus

    “Macs are dead,”
    depends on your market actually, I ran a couple sites one I got about 20% mac users, anther I got about 5%. I doubt you need a mac to test it on, since most users use Opera or Firefox on Macs.

  • Hi
    Was irritated to hear Paul suggesting testing for a mac wasn’t worth the effort, you need to read more. With virus free macs, the ipod, the strength of products/stores/stocks coming from Apple, you should be thinking about it. Much more than someone who is visually impaired visiting your site once in a million years. Worrying about that long shot
    Next, the comment print designers can’t do the web. That was the kicker, you are once again misinformed. Web designers can’t do print. Know nothing about resolution, colour spaces, trapping, RIP’s, and a million other details that make up a proper print job. When you mentioned simply making a ‘page look pretty’, you indicated how little you know outside of only what you do.
    In closing, if I understand Paul’s role correctly, he is purely a designer for Headscape? Not able to develop/program. I would suggest before you disregard the skills of a print professional as only someone who makes a ‘page look pretty’, you should spend more time at least developing the skills required for what you are currently doing. Designing is only a small part of web development….making a page look pretty is only a small part of print.
    My 2bits.

  • I doubt you need a mac to test it on, since most users use Opera or Firefox on Macs.”
    Where did you get that from?
    I’d say most Mac users use Safari. That’s based on persoanl experience not hard stats, but I’d be interested if you’ve got stats otherwise.
    BTW – Firefox on the Mac doesn’t render 100% the same as on the PC. Font sizes and margins can vary. It’s close – but not 100%.
    Much more than someone who is visually impaired visiting your site once in a million years. Worrying about that long shot
    That’s totally different. It’s a human rights issue.
    If you decide to support Safari on a Mac or not that’s a business decision which you’re entitled to make.
    You’re not entitled to make a decision as to whether a disabled person is able to access your site.
    You’ve got a legal and moral responsibility to make reasonable efforts to ensure your site’s accessible to people with disabilties.
    Besides – if you’re using web standards your site will pretty much be bascially accessible with minimal effort – and if you’re not then you shouldn’t be entitled to call yourself a professional web designer (not my idea).

  • Oh its so easy! lol

  • Derek

    The problem with including images as attachments in your email is that it’s a HUGE increase in size and bandwidth and can be particularly annoying to lower bandwidth users who need to wait to download images when popping mail.
    I’ve always thought linking works, but PDF is universal, an attached PDF will be guaranteed to be viewable across every platform with PDF viewers. Of course this adds to size as well.

  • Paul

    Mobile web:
    I live in South Africa where broadband is still mostly for the fairly wealthy. People with dial-up also can’t really afford to surf the internet either.
    I am creating a mobile site for my scout troop so that our scouts can access calendar details etc from their cellphones whenever they have the need.
    Our cost is R2/mb of data and with no graphics on the site, it’s not really a viable commercial exercise in terms of branding, but by giving the user information that they want quickly will make people have a “better online experience”.
    It should also work well in South Africa because I definitely believe that way more people here have cellphones than computers that can connect to the web.
    “Poorer” countries (in my opinion) will embrace the mobile web faster than the “richer” countries, because in the UK or USA you cud probably just pull out your laptop and connect through wi-fi whenever you want to.
    Here you can’t. Perhaps you don’t own a laptop, or there is no real wi-fi infrastructure. That’s why people here (especially the teens) are far more clued up on cellphone capabilities – because they are less likely to have a computer and therefore spend more time using the internet/chat rooms etc on their cellphones.
    Time will tell though.

  • Ron

    Great show, I have just discovered BoagWorld recently and am slowly catching up.
    I agree with your MAC reasoning. The MAC users are dying a slow and horrible death, but it isn’t too far off in the future.
    Also, with all the phonebrowser talk, why isn’t there and example of BoagWorld in a phone format…muhahahahaha!
    Last but not least do you have recommendations to see what type of formatting works best in small format.
    Like should we use tables or not, since CSS sounds out for now, what will work. A great link would be helpful.
    Thanks for the great show!!!!

  • Gary

    Paul recommends another book in this episode, a designer’s introduction to javascript – does anyone know where I can get this book from?

  • Hi!
    I did listen this podcast just a couple of days ago and found it very interesting because I have been tackling with mobile output of websites lately.
    I would like to share some of my thoughts about mobile websites to ease up my mind :) (Although people seemed to be more interested in the Mac question). Don’t get bored.
    I live in Finland and just this year service providers got the permission to sell mobile phones along with phone deals just like in the UK for years. Before it was illegal to do this and you had to buy your device separetly from the deal. (Hope you understand :) Because of this 3G phone sales have increased rapidly and atleast I have high hopes that mobile browsing will come more popular.
    Tarifs are still too high unless you take some kind of data deal (I have a 384 kbs connection and it costs 30 € a month in comparison to my 2048 kbs broadband connection which costs 36 € per month). As more and more people are getting these it comes important to think if your website needs an out put for mobile devices. But like you said in the podcast the time isn’t probably right to invest a lot of time and money to this unless it’s critical to your business.
    The browser differences are too big to ensure a website design that would look as supposed on every device. I’ve come to the conclusion that it is best to design with standards and hope that the different browsers show your site atleast in an understandable way. I hate this as like my sites to render the same way in every browser but it just isn’t possible.
    Ofcourse you must test your site with different mobile devices and browsers but this could be more easily said than done. For starters who owns or can access more than one or two mobile devices for test purposes. Your friends will hate you if you are always after their phones and the cost will be high if you are planning to buy several 3G or highend phones (which people are using for browsing if any). There are some emulators from different companies but it just isn’t the same. As you said there are about 160 different devices and over 40 browsers to begin with :)
    Some browsershave Flash players, JavaScript, Cookies and CSS support or some combination of these. Usually the execution of these features is lacking so you can’t really trust anything just hope. Some are plain XHTML browsers showing nothing but the fact if you have designed your site well with standards or poorly. There are also those browsers (Opera Mini) that strip elements away and transform your site’s out put to fit the small screen. The horrors of the designer :)
    The Opera 9 is a very good tool for developing mobile sites because it can emulate a small screen browser. Ofcourse it has an outstanding CSS support compared to actual mobile browsers so it tells you the truth very positively.
    In Finland we are big Nokia enthusiasts and some of the new genaration S60 (like N73) devices have a browser which shows web sites just like desktop browsers. Even if you provide an alternative CSS stylesheet using the media=”handheld” atribute. It is absolutely horrible to browse a site with 240×320 px screen which is designed to computer screens. I don’t know what the engineers at Nokia have thought when dropping this standard. In theory life of the designer would be more easy if you just could provide two stylesheets in this way.
    Well the browser supports JavaScript and Cookies so I got an idea (after reading some A List Apart) why not to allow users to change the whole stylesheet on the fly by clicking a button or link. I begged my friend to write this script and it actually works. The Nokia users (and other not getting the mobile stylesheet the normal way by defining the media atribute for CSS links) can now view the site in a more convenient way if they choose so. Ofcourse it is a whole different thing to teach people to use this kind of feature. The other thing with this is that if you design you mobile stylesheet in a flexible way not only the mobile users can benefit from it. Users having probles accessing the site for example due to poor sight can use also this alternative browsing view for better accessibility because it works also when using a desktop computer. I think it would be unreasonable to use this much work and effort for just for one mobile browser. Unless if you are getting paid for it ;P
    The script uses JavaScript (we used the Prototype library to ease up the work) and Cookies so its not a perfect solution and needs a lot of developement still. Anyway it is nice to develope and learn something new and geeting your satisfaction from it. Sorry for writing this novel but I had to purge my mind and share this idea with others.
    The script is running on two different sites:
    http://www.bf-engineering.fi (It is in Finnish so beware but you can find the magic button from the the top left of the browser view.)
    http://www.avecmobile.com (This site was updated just yesterday and some history payload needs to be corrected still. The site is running on Typo3 CMS. Magic link is in the left navigation bar.)
    A couple of links for the mobile web designer:

  • thanks…