Consumers Don’t Want To Browse Desktop Websites On Their Phones

Consumer’s don’t *want* to browse the desktop web on their phones. It’s a brave statement to make, but I firmly believe it. The sad fact is, they need it, which is evidenced by the success of the iPhone’s web browser, as well as applications such as Opera Mini and Skyfire. Let me explain:

The ‘mobile web’ first hit consumers as ‘WAP’ web pages. WAP (Wireless Application Protocol) was basically the same thing the internet was when it started – a collection of text-only websites. At the time, most cellphones had monochrome displays and slower-than-dialup connections, so there wasn’t much point in images and that sort of thing. As phones got color displays, faster data connections, and faster processors, the ‘mobile internet’ slowly got better, upgrading to colored text and images. Unfortunately, though, the fact was that most websites who had ‘mobile’ sites were only offering a subset of the content found on their full ‘desktop’ websites.

With web developers unwilling to truly mobilize their content, instead only offering piss-poor websites that offered little to no actual content, consumers quickly wrote off the mobile internet as lame, and rightfully so. Another barrier was the prolific use of various ‘mobile’ URLs, rather than intelligent auto-detecting of a mobile device. The result of this is that the mobile version of a given site could be found in any number of places. Some fell for the .mobi trick, which requires a content owner to purchase an additional domain, simply to host a mobile-friendly version of their site. Others used,,, or worse yet, There was no standardization, which caused confusion, as consumers were never sure where to go to get the mobile-friendly version of their favorite websites.

The situation worsened with the arrival of several ‘mobilization’ tools, such as Google’s, which simply took a full HTML website and broke it up into countless ‘bite-sized’ webpages, again, text only in most cases. This hosed any chance of a decent user experience by reducing mobile browsing back down to text-only, and adding the frustration of and endless array of clicking.

The handset manufacturers and software developers quickly saw an opportunity, and thus we ended up seeing new browsers that enabled these small, pocketable phones to get all the content they wanted, by simply displaying the ‘desktop’ website.

The problem with this is that browsing a full desktop webpage on a phone is like looking at a mural through an peephole. Sure, you can see bits and pieces, but it’s alot of work to get the full thing, and you have to glance around a bit before you can actually find what you’re looking for. With a correctly mobilized website, readers/viewers can get every bit of content that’s available on the full desktop view, only formatted properly to fit comfortably on their phone’s screen, whether that’s 2.4-inches or 4.4-inches. Even better is that correctly mobilized websites are now able to automatically detect whether the reader is using a mobile device, and can automatically format the content, eliminating the .mobi/m./mobile. confusion, and allowing consumers to simply go to the same domain, whether mobile or on desktop.

For instance, pull up on your desktop computer. Now, cup your hand around your eye so you can only see a 5th of the display, and try reading a post. It’s frustrating. Now, go to on your mobile. It’s intelligently reformatted, specifically for your phone’s display. You can now easily find the content, read it in its entirety, and even leave a comment. Everything you can do on your desktop browser, you can easily do – without squinting or scrolling all over the place – on your phone. That’s how browsing on your phone *should* be.

The important thing here is that consumers want access to the CONTENT, not the LAYOUT. The reason consumers now believe that they need the desktop web on their phones is because they’re used to the mobile web not offering the same content. Thus, they’re willing to tolerate the layout, including scrolling all over the place, in order to get to the content they were looking for. It’s not that consumers want the desktop web on their phones. It’s that they want the desktop content on their phones, and web designers haven’t stepped up to the challenge of adjusting the layout to give them that.

Unfortunately, it seems as if this ship has sailed. Consumers have been marketed to that they want/desire/need/require/etc the ‘desktop web’ on their phones, and have been conditioned to be impressed with better ways to interact with it. Which is why there’s a ‘exit the mobile version’ link on If you still want the desktop version, you can have it. It’s also why I have both Opera Mini and SkyFire installed on most of my phones – there are still some websites that simply don’t get it.

Throughout tech history, the superior technology has not always won out, often losing to the inferior technology, simply due to marketing, convenience, or whatever else.

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