SxSW: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About the Mobile Web

by Luke Wroblewski March 12, 2007

Brian Fling’s Everything You Always Wanted to Know About the Mobile Web talk at SxSW2007 touched on a broad range of considerations when designing for the Mobile Web including strategy, information architecture, development, standards, publishing and more.

What is the Mobile Web?

  • Web-based content and actions you can retrieve or utilize on a mobile device
  • About 1/3rd of the planet are mobile subscribers
  • About 1/5th of planet has mobile Web access
  • By 2010, 50% of world’s population will be mobile subscribers
  • 60% of mobile users grab Web content at least once per month. Less than desktop users.
  • Mobile will revolutionize the way everyone gathers information
  • Location-based services: ability of mobile to bring information to you that’s relevant based on where you are. This contextualizes the entire Web.

Creating a Mobile Web Strategy

  • “Find a need and fill it.” Put the solution in front of the actual problem.
  • Business, Technical, and User goals need to be balanced. Find the sweet spot between all three.
  • Cost, Content, Context are the 3 C’s of the mobile Web. Loose anything that does not support these.
  • Cost: develop your site responsibility to avoid high costs for consumers
  • Content: what’s on your mobile web site
  • Context: what does your content add to a user’s mobility?

Mobile Information Architecture:

  • Avoid redundancies, vague labels: limit categories to 5, limit links to 10, no more than 5 levels deep, etc.
  • Clickstream: diagramming out what the sequence of events will be. Need to present this to Mobile Service Provider if you want to be part of their portal experience.

Mobile Web Design

  • Find the right spot between most compatible and richer experiences (that some phones enable).
  • Screen Size: lots of variations depending on phone type: feature phones, smart phones, PDAs, etc.
  • Recommended max size: 200x250 pixels
  • Feature phones have the largest adoption. Need to primarily design for them as they are mass-market phones.
  • Orientation: think vertically when designing.

Understanding Mobile Web Standards

  • XHTML-MP. Subset of XHTML basic is part of WAP 2.0
  • Old WAP was complicated but the new one is based Web standards. It is essentially XHTML. Currently the predominant language of the Mobile Web.
  • Wireless CSS supports most of the basic CSS properties. Keep it simple and focused on content.
  • W3C initiatives: mobile Web best practices document. Do not manage the standards but provide suggestions.
  • Need correct encoding and well-formed code.
  • Use ordered lists (OL) for navigation: allows you to use access keys as primary navigation.
  • Use document styles, not external style sheets. If put all styles are in the top of your document, they will load with content quicker.
  • Put navigation in the content body.
  • Forms are tricky. Have to explain what content can be entered. Keep them to a minimum.

Mobile Publishing

  • 500 different devices sold per year, 50 different browsers.
  • Focus on 5 devices: most are derivatives of others.
  • Options: force user to enter a mobile URL, detect mobile device and send over to mobile site, short code & WAP-push.
  • Can test with online tools and emulators.
  • Device Anywhere (deviceanywhere.com) –can remote control multiple devices.