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 mobile.domain.com, m.domain.com, wap.domain.com, or worse yet, www.domain.com/mobile. 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 RickyCadden.com 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 RickyCadden.com 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 RickyCadden.com. 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.

  • demowayne

    you’ve hit the nail on the head there, good work.

    I have a 5800 and can view full web pages easily, they fit quite nicely in landscape mode, yet if a mobile version is avalable I choose to view that (as long as all the content is there ;-) ). Mobile pages are faster to load and on the whole easier on the eye.

    Lets hope auto detection picks up fast.

  • demowayne

    you’ve hit the nail on the head there, good work.

    I have a 5800 and can view full web pages easily, they fit quite nicely in landscape mode, yet if a mobile version is avalable I choose to view that (as long as all the content is there ;-) ). Mobile pages are faster to load and on the whole easier on the eye.

    Lets hope auto detection picks up fast.

  • http://littlebrownjob.blogspot.com/ Paul

    Great post, it does seem to taking an age for some major sites to get up to speed on the mobile front and as you point some may never bother.

    I’d day about 90% of my net access is on the mobile these days and that wouldn’t be possible without the likes of Opera Mini.

    Paul.

  • http://littlebrownjob.blogspot.com Paul

    Great post, it does seem to taking an age for some major sites to get up to speed on the mobile front and as you point some may never bother.

    I’d day about 90% of my net access is on the mobile these days and that wouldn’t be possible without the likes of Opera Mini.

    Paul.

  • jonnybruha

    On board 100% with this. There’s a Python app/script that allows you to change the user string of your phone when browsing the web so the website is automatically formatted for whichever type of device you select. I used that extensively on my 5800XM before I sold it and I sincerely hope that it will work on the OmniaHD when I get my hands on it. (The piece mentioned is UA Changer, though I can’t give you a definite answer as to where I found it).

  • jonnybruha

    On board 100% with this. There’s a Python app/script that allows you to change the user string of your phone when browsing the web so the website is automatically formatted for whichever type of device you select. I used that extensively on my 5800XM before I sold it and I sincerely hope that it will work on the OmniaHD when I get my hands on it. (The piece mentioned is UA Changer, though I can’t give you a definite answer as to where I found it).

  • Steven

    It’s true, I agree with this post.

    You might want to fix the glaring grammatical error in the title though. Just saying.

  • Steven

    It’s true, I agree with this post.

    You might want to fix the glaring grammatical error in the title though. Just saying.

  • jonnybruha

    Oh hey, one of my favorite Italian sites just posted about what I was talking about. Here’s the link. It looks like I got the name wrong.

    http://www.symbianplanet.net/2009/04/iphonesque-mod-per-s60-browsers/

  • jonnybruha

    Oh hey, one of my favorite Italian sites just posted about what I was talking about. Here’s the link. It looks like I got the name wrong.

    http://www.symbianplanet.net/2009/04/iphonesque-mod-per-s60-browsers/

  • http://www.nokiacreative.com/ James Burland

    Interesting post Ricky.

    Seeing as how this isn’t a Symbian themed blog, perhaps you’ll forgive me for ‘bigging up’ the App Store here?

    A large portion of the 30,000 applications in the App Store take the next logical step beyond what you’re talking about here, i.e. they present the content without the constraints of HMTL or Javascript. TV Plus and Trains for the iPhone are *far* superior in both style and usability to any services website, mobile or otherwise.

    The next step beyond native apps with internet content hocks seems to be *pure* cloud computing. With not only the data but the entire GUI being streamed to the phone stream in realtime. That way there will no constraints (to designers and content providers) at all, beyond the resolution of the display of course.

    In the meantime what should designers do? Is there perhaps a middle ground, a design that will work equally well with both large screen laptops and small screen pocket computers. I’ve been getting ready to launch my next blog http://www.pocketcomputerworld.com, I’ve (hopefully!) found a design that will be equally readable on both pocket, mobile and fixed computers.

    I think what I trying to say is this; Is it *really* necessary to have two versions of any website? Is it possible that one size might actually fit all? I think the chances of this are increasing not decreasing.

  • http://www.nokiacreative.com James Burland

    Interesting post Ricky.

    Seeing as how this isn’t a Symbian themed blog, perhaps you’ll forgive me for ‘bigging up’ the App Store here?

    A large portion of the 30,000 applications in the App Store take the next logical step beyond what you’re talking about here, i.e. they present the content without the constraints of HMTL or Javascript. TV Plus and Trains for the iPhone are *far* superior in both style and usability to any services website, mobile or otherwise.

    The next step beyond native apps with internet content hocks seems to be *pure* cloud computing. With not only the data but the entire GUI being streamed to the phone stream in realtime. That way there will no constraints (to designers and content providers) at all, beyond the resolution of the display of course.

    In the meantime what should designers do? Is there perhaps a middle ground, a design that will work equally well with both large screen laptops and small screen pocket computers. I’ve been getting ready to launch my next blog http://www.pocketcomputerworld.com, I’ve (hopefully!) found a design that will be equally readable on both pocket, mobile and fixed computers.

    I think what I trying to say is this; Is it *really* necessary to have two versions of any website? Is it possible that one size might actually fit all? I think the chances of this are increasing not decreasing.

  • admin

    James,

    First, the application approach is wrong because it’s far *more* work for the content owner, as each platform requires a different process to create and market the app. Despite what some people would have you believe, the iPhone is *not* the most used device to browse the internet, there are plenty of other smartphones, and even more featurephones that should be taken into account. The device should *definitely* not be a limiting factor.

    In the meantime, what should designers do? Easy – the method of automatically detecting a mobile device and presenting the information appropriately. It is 2 different versions, but not an ongoing thing. Once you do the initial mobile-friendly setup, there’s no other work to do, really. The content is automatically reformatted according to the end device, so there’s no real ‘work’ involved for the designer.

  • admin

    James,

    First, the application approach is wrong because it’s far *more* work for the content owner, as each platform requires a different process to create and market the app. Despite what some people would have you believe, the iPhone is *not* the most used device to browse the internet, there are plenty of other smartphones, and even more featurephones that should be taken into account. The device should *definitely* not be a limiting factor.

    In the meantime, what should designers do? Easy – the method of automatically detecting a mobile device and presenting the information appropriately. It is 2 different versions, but not an ongoing thing. Once you do the initial mobile-friendly setup, there’s no other work to do, really. The content is automatically reformatted according to the end device, so there’s no real ‘work’ involved for the designer.

  • http://antoinerjwright.com/ ARJWright

    I do agree that this is a good post; but largely speaking, I think James is correct in saying that an approach where the web facilitates the transfer of raw data, and then whether app or browser, the user is presented with content that works best is the ultimately best approach.

    But back to the website piece of the disucssion:

    A website should present its kernel content in a manner that’s best readable by person and device independent of the author’s design motives (context of site notwithstanding). For a lot of sites – especially blogs – they could very well get away without having a site design at all.

    Mobile formatted sites help the 50%+ of browsing mobiles out there that have a horrible browser and to wit are needed for now. Now, if Opera could be a lot more convincing towards getting those folks up to speed, then the other tennants of web design can be done in a device-sensitive manner which would reduce this discussion to “just the content despite the device.”

    By the way, if a designer is not considering all points of entry towards their webstie when they are designing it, then they need to refine the design until they have. Sites like http://mobify.me help that aspect out a lot (just enabled that at Mobile Ministry Magazine the other day, and its pretty slick).

  • http://antoinerjwright.com/ ARJWright

    I do agree that this is a good post; but largely speaking, I think James is correct in saying that an approach where the web facilitates the transfer of raw data, and then whether app or browser, the user is presented with content that works best is the ultimately best approach.

    But back to the website piece of the disucssion:

    A website should present its kernel content in a manner that’s best readable by person and device independent of the author’s design motives (context of site notwithstanding). For a lot of sites – especially blogs – they could very well get away without having a site design at all.

    Mobile formatted sites help the 50%+ of browsing mobiles out there that have a horrible browser and to wit are needed for now. Now, if Opera could be a lot more convincing towards getting those folks up to speed, then the other tennants of web design can be done in a device-sensitive manner which would reduce this discussion to “just the content despite the device.”

    By the way, if a designer is not considering all points of entry towards their webstie when they are designing it, then they need to refine the design until they have. Sites like http://mobify.me help that aspect out a lot (just enabled that at Mobile Ministry Magazine the other day, and its pretty slick).

  • http://antoinerjwright.com ARJWright

    I do agree that this is a good post; but largely speaking, I think James is correct in saying that an approach where the web facilitates the transfer of raw data, and then whether app or browser, the user is presented with content that works best is the ultimately best approach.

    But back to the website piece of the disucssion:

    A website should present its kernel content in a manner that’s best readable by person and device independent of the author’s design motives (context of site notwithstanding). For a lot of sites – especially blogs – they could very well get away without having a site design at all.

    Mobile formatted sites help the 50%+ of browsing mobiles out there that have a horrible browser and to wit are needed for now. Now, if Opera could be a lot more convincing towards getting those folks up to speed, then the other tennants of web design can be done in a device-sensitive manner which would reduce this discussion to “just the content despite the device.”

    By the way, if a designer is not considering all points of entry towards their webstie when they are designing it, then they need to refine the design until they have. Sites like http://mobify.me help that aspect out a lot (just enabled that at Mobile Ministry Magazine the other day, and its pretty slick).