A mass market exists for the mobile Internet, but it will remain untapped until designers make simpler Web pages that can be viewed properly on handsets, a pioneer of the World Wide Web said. More editorials on the subjects here and here. This is a good opportunity to remind everyone that both OSNews.com and GnomeFiles.org support ~120 mobile HTML-capable devices automatically (no reason to enter special URLs) in addition to our WAP-only sites. About 2,000 readers visit daily OSNews with such devices (out of ~250,000 readers, on average, daily).
Mobile Internet’s Uncertain Future
2005-03-22 Internet 23 Comments
I think cost will remain a bigger limitation than page design. I don’t know what it’s like in other countries, but here it’s ridiculously expensive for any sort of mobile connection. Until costs come down, people won’t use it as a tool, but as a novelty – same as the Internet was back in the early 90’s.
Also it’s not a particularly compelling experience – internet in a 160 pixel square, with a clunky navigational interface, compared to Firefox (and a mouse!) on a screen 1000+ pixels square.
If a site is well-designed 160×160 pixels are plenty. OSNews looks lovely on my AvantGo for example.
As for mobile connection costs, in japan or usa the costs are not too high to get a GPRS connection.
The blurb states the limiting factor is complex designs. However, I percieve the screen size and resolution more of a limiting factor.
Actually, no. If a design uses clean HTML, browsers like NetFront or Openwave use special algorithms to “break down” the tables to make them fit on small screens. But this can only work if it’s easy to figure out what’s going where. Most sites are developed with WYSIWYG tools that generate really ugly code, plus, mobile browsers are usualy cHTML-capable only (that is a subset of HTML 3.2). Only now some mobile browsers are trying to implement *some* CSS as most of the phones they run are underpowered for such a thing, or they have very little memory. For example, the most-used mobile browser out there today (53%), Openwave’s UP.Browser, is bundled with many regular phones, but not in most smartphones. These phones usually run at 20 Mhz and they don’t give more than 300 KBs of RAM to the browser. The browser has to cut corners to be able to work in such devices. I don’t expect such phones to be able to render CNN.com or MTV.com correctly, not only because their site’s design is complex, but also because the devices themselves are underpowered for such kind of D/X/HTML support.
So, it’s a bit of everything: web designers must hand-write their cHTML in a clean way and screen size must be at least QVGA to get a pleasurable experience.
WAP from its inception was a poorly designed mobile fone web implementation. Anyone who has worked in the WAP design field knows how painful it is to have to “test” 1 site across a myriad of phone emulators.
One thing I’ve yet to see are more mobile networks providing content via Java based applications. Why isn’t J2ME being used?
> Why isn’t J2ME being used?
It is: http://www.reqwireless.com/demo-webviewer.html
But it sucks as it’s even slower than the usual native code on non-smartphones.
I am curious to learn how to design pages that look good in small screen real-estate systems. If the osnews.com guys could comment on their solution, that’d be awesome. Also, since everyone here seems rather clueful, could people point me to links that discuss this sort of thing? That is design for small devices with limited processing power and screen real-estate.
There are a few how-tos on the web, but nothing solid, or put-together well. My experience comes from my previous job as a web developer where we had to do HTML by hand (and so I became a bit of a purist) and through my husband whose’s job is in the field (he is an mobile browser engineer for OpenWave.com and so he knows the industry well). Here are a few tips:
1. Do not use CSS, DHTML. Do not close the tags XHTML style. While CSS helps for resolution-independant coding, none of the mobile browsers supports CSS properly. Only NetFront or Opera support these a bit (and Openwave’s UP.Browser in a lesser degree), but it’s nothing really solid or well-done yet. Instead, it seems that the best solution right now is clean, manually-written cHTML (subset of HTML 3.2). This is what the majority of mobile browsers support well (and some WAP usually).
2. Do not use nested tables. Just use one level of tables, if you have to use tables. Many of these browsers don’t support more than 1 level. And even if they do, they will usually run out of RAM if the site is too complex full of such cells.
3. Do not hard code the size of a cell or table unless you are sure it will fit on 128 pixels horizontally (I have placed a minimum support of 128×128 phones for myself). Instead, use the 100% percentage, or anything to that effect that will look well on both 128×128 screens up to VGA 640×480 PDA screens. Above that resolution serve the desktop version instead.
4. Check here and write down the user agents (not all are there though): http://www.zytrax.com/tech/web/mobile_ids.html#mobile
Create a page that checks if a browser is mobile or not and according to that result serve the mobile layout or the normal one (that’s how we do it at osnews, and it’s automatic, as the check happens on all pages). Cookies don’t always work on mobile browsers, don’t use them for such checks. Don’t forget to support the text-mode browsers too: lynx, elinks, links, w3m and other stuff like WebTV or Danger HipTop or BlackBerry, Plucker, JPluck, iSilo, Sunrise.
5. Make sure the overall size of your page is below 32 KBs (including images). Some carriers limit the transfer of web pages to 12 KBs (jphone) or 16 KBs. However, most will let you go up to 32 KBs per page.
6. Do not create images bigger than 120 pixels (for my self-imposed limit — calculate yours). They won’t fit and the browser will auto-shrink them and will make them look ugly. Don’t forget to count the scrollbar size, usually up to 10 pixels. Do not create image buttons with text in them. If they get shrinked by the browser, the text will be unreadable.
7. On your BODY tag add these attributes: topmargin=0 marginheight=0 marginwidth=0 leftmargin=0 rightmargin=0
These will help you gain a few pixels for a better real screen estate on a phone or PDA. They usually save about 5% of screen space on phones.
Let me know if you have questions.
Although we have the more cellphones per capita, almost no-one uses data connections over GSM/GPRS/UMTS.
The reason is very simple: you pay by traffic, and the price is very high.
Apart from some rich technogeeks the only ones using data over cellphone are those whose bills are paid by the firm employing them (mostly high profile salesmen and managers).
As for navigation IN the mobile device, it’s simply nonexistent: cellphones are awful at browsing, and smartphones and PDAs with internet access are practically unheard of.
OS news’s support for mobile devices is the best i have ever seen from any website i’ve used (on my Nokia 6600).
Keep up the good work.
Oh right? What about a standards compliant browser on mobile devices so that we can write one page to serve them all – ah, yes that’s correct – MS IE’s Pocket Browser does HTML 3.2 at best and is useless.
If you want accessible media on a mobile platform, give me a god damn standards capable browser on *all* mobile devices. Either Opera or Mozilla Minimo will do it, I am certainly not relying on Microsoft to get their act together.
Don’t complain at already-stretched web designers who have to deal with a ton of browser crap when it’s the browser-manufacturers fault for writing lazy software.
OSNews was one of a TINY number of sites that were a pleasure to read on my phone when i had no “real” net access for 9 days. I had no time to prepare a list or learn special urls for mobile viewing.
It was so bad I am considering finding or writing something to allow me to read a greater range of sites when i am out and about. parsing rss feeds and extracting the main story from the page for me to view in a simple format. I can’t do it for every site, sure, but it will help LOADS!
There’s absolutely no way I’m going back to HTML 3.2 for anything. I’m very happy where XHTML is now and am currently pondering whether I should drop HTML altogether and go for structured XML/XSLT on my homepage. Look at how far mobile phones have come in recent years. Personally I own a Nokia 6310 which only does WAP. That phone was new in 2001. In another couple of years I’m sure we’ll have properly standards compliant phone browsers. That is if we don’t pamper the current breed of mobile browsers too much.
Currently I’m working with the Typo3 CMS to make it produce structured documents with proper CSS layouts instead of nested tables. This is extremely hard to do because the nested tables paradigm is so deeply entrenched into the system.. and it looks like plenty more CMS’es have the same problem. The news portal I mentioned runs off Vignette Storyserver, which is one of the top players in the field. It makes me sad.. I just take comfort in the fact that the content is _at least_ stored with some form of structure inside an SQL database.
I browse OSNews a lot on my old motorola startac (original one..heh..). works great. It uses the UP Browser v3.1.10B.1.0.. sites like OSNews, old-computers.com, weather.com, commodore.ca etc load up fast and are plenty usable. kinda cool for such an old phone
oh and btw, eugenia, OSNews is the only site I’ve seen that looks wonderful on ANY browser on any platform I have ever used(quite a few I might add..). Including my 3 line of text startac good up the wonderful work!
I Have an old Motorola mpx200 with windows 2002 on it
can i install some other operating systems to let it go faster?
it has an Omap 710 inside…
>Oh right? What about a standards compliant browser on
>mobile devices so that we can write one page to serve them all
There is no such thing in the mobile world. As I said, Opera, UP.Browser 6.2.x and Netfront 3.2+ are the best mobile browsers in terms of standard compliancy, but they are still far from being “as good as a desktop browser”. They are just better than the rest of the junk (see: AU’s Obigo which is now used on many LG phones or SONY Ericson’s native browser (not the smartphone browser, the other one)).
>There’s absolutely no way I’m going back to HTML 3.2 for anything.
Then you should forget mobile content that really works. Sorry. That’s the reality today. Mobile coding is the same as it was for desktop HTML in 1996.
>Mixing presentation with content is _bad_ for content >recycling and I simply won’t have it.
I don’t know what you mean, but osnews works fine. The mobile content is the same as the desktop one. It’s just that layout that changes slightly to accomodate mobile browsers.
>OSNews is the only site I’ve seen that looks wonderful on ANY browser on any platform I have ever used
Thank you Helf. That was the idea all along.
Eugenia. I really hope you can keep up supporting mobile devices (with limited display and bandwith capabilities) since my favourite late evening activity to check osnews site with a Nokia 9210i in my bed.
– the excellent web desing for any low resolution device
– the minimized size of the content should be downloaded for a low-bandwith device
Otherwise how could I continue flaming here?
One more point of advice:
8. Download the emulators for most of these devices and test, test test…
>Eugenia. I really hope you can keep up supporting mobile devices
For ever and ever.
work on rendering existing web sites on phones or work on improving the display technology of cell phones. DO NOT try to rewrite the internet as that is a very very bad idea.
The mobile internet has plenty of other problems too like long latency (400 ms round trip is on the low side for mobile internet), high costs, slow transfer rates and overall poor service quality.
Input technology is a pretty hefty problem as well. Those little keyboards suck and using a numerical keyboard for anything other than dialing a phone number is a pain.
>work on rendering existing web sites on phones or
>work on improving the display technology of cell phones
That’s easier than done, mate. My husband works in the industry and I can tell you, all these browsers are trying to invent new ways to render normal sites on small screens, but at the end of the day, NO, it won’t work as well. A 120×160 screen is just a 120×160 screen NO MATTER how inventive you might be.
So, yeah, creating mobile-friendly sites in addition to normal sites still *IS* the best way to go, for everyone involved, including the user. The only ones who have to do some extra work are the web developers, who should be cattering for these mobile users in the first place.
Osnews is very nice in design. I also really like the comments system. No registering required, but ip numbers to be able to identify people if necessary.
Ever heard of this?: http://www.anybrowser.org/campaign/