April 21, 2009

529 words 3 mins read

Why don't people build mobile sites?

Over the years as I’ve spent more time on my cell phone for data access (markedly more since I got a company phone), I’ve wondered why more websites don’t have a mobile version. Of course there are a few big companies that have mobile versions (like Google) that are basically as good as their regular site (granted Google’s regular website isn’t terribly complex). Some companies (such as Starbucks) have mobile sites, but the functionality is reduced heavily from their “big web” sites. And then there is most other sites, simply have no mobile version at all. This is extremely frustrating when you are forced to do regular work on a mobile browser.

Recently people have been trying to build the “rich mobile web”, bringing all sorts of cool features that you find on the “big web” down to the mobile web. This is of course a fantastic idea as the direction we are headed is that in which everyone has a cell phone with a data plan. The Japanese are way ahead of most of the world in this respect with Mobile TV, QR Codes, and all sorts of other cool stuff. That fantastic idea aside, we (in the United States) simply don’t have the bandwidth (yet) to have a rich mobile web. In fact just visiting a normal website on a mobile phone can leave you hanging for a minute or more while all the miscellaneous media is downloaded. It is a truly miserable experience.

So to the question of the day (AKA the post topic) is: Why don’t more people build mobile sites?

Answer: It is a freaking pain in the ass.

This I am finding out from personal experience. I recently started making our company’s website (one of them) mobile compatible. The site itself is extremely simple, only a handful of pages. I had recently converted it to use PHP for a simple template system. I figure it would be easy to change the header & footer for mobile browsers, dump some images and “Voila! Mobile compatible website”. Yea, not nearly that easy. HTML Transitional 4.01 (which I did the site in) is not “Standards compliant” for the mobile web, so I am supposed to use the XHTML-MP 1.2 profile. Well, obviously, XHTML != HTML so the entire site is very standards un-compliant on the mobile (according to the W3C Validator, but it works in IEMobile & Safari Mobile). I spent most of the day working on the site and got it from a 1 or “bad” to a 4 or “good” according to Ready.mobi (a mobile-readiness evaluator). An entire day for a handful of pages to be “good” and that doesn’t even take into account the TONS of errors the W3C has with my hack.

I’m continuing my fight, but so far it seems like the only real option a person has when building a mobile website, is to build a completely separate site. Either that or build a site in a middle-ware that will convert it to the appropriate version, which seems even more complicated (but easier to maintain). Not fun. But it does explain why the mobile web is not a popular web.