Stop Cramming the Mobile Web Into the PC Box

For a while the consensus has been that the mobile web is the same as the PC web, in that a person should be able to access whatever content they can via a wired PC connection on their phone, without suffering through WAP browsers or limits. I disagree. The mobile web is still different than the wired web, and it’s far more important.

Which means that developers shouldn’t only think of the web in terms of a wired connection for a PC. Google Chairman and CEO Eric Schmidt said it best when he discussed the future of the mobile web during his speech at the Mobile World Congress today.

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In essence, Schmidt was saying that in many ways, your smartphone is about to supplant your computer — with huge implications for content providers and operators. For while PCs are about content creation (blogging, graphic design, etc.), and both current-generation smartphones and future devices like the iPad about content consumption, tomorrow’s smartphones — or superphones — will be about both, and may even do both equally well.

So those developing applications with an eye toward consumption on personal computers over wired connections should stop thinking about mobile as an addendum to the web-based project and start thinking of it as a separate application in its own right. Note how your application uses data and how it will perform on relatively slower mobile networks. Good navigation is essential. Consider how your application (or web page) deals with connection errors and how it delivers data over a thin pipe, as Elizabeth Churchill, a principal research scientist and manager of the Internet Experiences Group at Yahoo, describes in the video below from a GigaOM event last October. The mobile section is about five and half minutes in, and hits on some really good design tips.

[blip.tv http://blip.tv/play/AYGptiYC]

Other than the difference in the speed and stability of the connection, developers will also need to think about the platform. Will the content or applications be used on an iPad, a phone, inside a moving car? If everything has a connection, and multiple operating systems such as Android or the newly launched MeeGo are the framework for a variety of end devices, then the mobile web isn’t a singular experience, or screen, anymore.

For example. there’s no reason that my connected car has to offer the Internet in a web-biased format. Navigation in a car shouldn’t be mouse-based; it should be voice-based. Viewed through such a lens, it becomes clear that mobile connectivity sets developers free — free to play with different user interfaces, site navigation and experiences that will make surfing the mobile web a background activity in service of the user, rather than the primary one designed strictly to entertain.

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