Mobile Web Application Tips

ZDNet released an article on it’s site giving best way forward and a few tips on developing mobile web applications. The article gives a really good overview for designers wanting to either create from scratch or redesign websites for the mobile web.

The article titled: Tips for Developing Mobile Web Applications starts with mentioning five interesting points which I’ll expand on a little here:

Limit graphics: they are an excellent way to spice up a Web site, but their use is questionable when working with small screens.

The use of graphic should not be discounted by any means. While it makes sense to limit graphics, a business is a business and must get its brand across. A good way of doing this is to create the brand and then follow it by the content. The first thing a visitor should see on your mobile website is the brand of the company or ‘feel’ the brand. You don’t want plain white pages as this goes back to the old arguments when accessible web designers were creating usability sites that validated really well. The big problem was they lacked graphical output so you saw these white pages with black text. After all, it’s easy to validate a blank page. Thankfully that has changed now. A good point in case (and still is largely) are some SEO firms that create white pages full of text believing that if they lower the text and add graphics their sites won’t rank high in search engines anymore. There was no thought for the end-user or the brand.

Limit download times: Travel back in time to the initial days of the Web where dial-up connections with a 9,600baud modem was cutting edge, and you will understand the bandwidth limitations for wireless devices.

Absolutely, this is an extremely important factor in developing for the mobile web. Unlike the WWW the Mobile Web is not run on free internet connections. Most users pay by the minute while they surf. Having a website that takes forever to download can get quite expensive. Most handheld devices carry very little bandwidth and are slow in this medium to start with.

Carefully select content: Tailor the content specifically to the target user group by displaying only the most essential data.

Content is an important factor of mobile surfing because it is kept at a minimum. A mobile ready website should produce on its home page a brief synopsis and fast navigation to its main service areas. Copywriters will be useful here as you need your best content up first with that ‘call to action’ right there to keep the mobile surfer interested.

Minimise page length and size: Scrolling on handheld devices is often limited, awkward, and it can be hard for users to keep track of their place with scroll keys and other pen input devices.

I have found this out the hard-way many times and still continue to do so. Unless you’re using a stylus touch screen mobile device then scrolling should be kept at a minimum. This brings me back to the above statement about content again and keeping it short and powerful. Another consideration would be navigation and having the few ‘nav buttons’ easily accessible to be clicked and not all the way down in the footer bar. I feel a top row of buttons would work well in this medium or smaller links at the side of the content. People don’t like to fiddle and mobiles are fiddly at the best of times, keep it easy for the end user and then your site should work well.

Utilise standard HTML: Stick with standard HTML tags to ensure proper functioning of an application.

This goes without saying the use of good validated mark-up is important. Google has created a mobile search engine and suggest that your page should be written in XHTML, WML or iMode. XHTML seems to be the more popular language for writing websites for the mobile web as it offers an integration point for both handheld and wired content.

More than ever before web developers will really have to develop with the end-user in mind. Time is money on the mobile web and users won’t be happy if they are stuck on websites that load slowly or don’t give them the information they need fast. A good rule of thumb to remember is that a majority of users won’t be there to see the pretty design it will be to find the product or service they are looking for and then act on it.