Article: To Mobilize or Not to Mobilize

by on July 5, 2011

Running a small tech-related site doesn’t exactly scream, “Let’s make tough decisions,” but one thing that has been a bit of an ongoing dilemma is the idea of creating a special mobile version of this site. For awhile (back in 2009 or so), we had a plugin that made iOS users access a simplified, more webapp-like version of the site, and it worked fairly well. Unfortunately, it became a paid option and made me really question its value.

The iPad also helped reinforce the anti-mobile stance, since, our site loads pretty well on Mobile Safari, if I say so myself. We don’t have a lot of complicated code, most features work exactly like their desktop versions, and users aren’t trying to learn where certain controls are. Double-tapping the text in the content area on the iPhone makes it pretty readable. Besides that, any changes/updates/modifications we do to our formatting and layout are reflected for all users, rather than just those on a desktop browser. Often times, we forgot about the style sheets on the mobile plugin.

A few years back, Mike Davidson offered some great tips to make a site “mobile-friendly”, but this was in a day when most people were on EDGE (2G) networks and browsing on a phone was a chore. Although it was invaluable for Web designers who wanted to reach users on BlackBerries, Palm Treos, or simple dumbphones, should we still think of creating special formats for smartphones? These days, iOS, Android, and WebOS feature desktop-grade browsers, just shrunk, and our networks are fast enough to handle loading just about any page we’d want. Is it just me, or does creating a “dumbed-down” version of a site for iPhone users counterintuitive? I could see for something with more complicated formatting, or lots of JavaScript where it’s a frustrating experience on a small screen, but our site seems to hold up pretty well.

Don’t get me wrong, I think that in certain instances it is advantageous to have a mobile version of a site. Things like Twitter and Facebook are centered around interactivity and the desktop versions would have users reaching for controls on different parts of the screen all the time (think of the pinch-to-zooms!) Some news sites also benefit from a simpler interface, since the home page is often cluttered with multiple columns, ads, and videos. A mobile version can offer video in a non-Flash format for iOS users. Again, this makes sense.

Finally, if you are visiting our site on an iOS device and really want to get rid of any sort of formatting, Apple has something for you with iOS 5—Safari Reader, which will kill all the formatting, much like Readability. We’ve been working hard to fix any formatting issues that may come up with Safari Reader (it has been around for the desktop version of Safari for awhile), and think that will be a good alternative for those who want an even less cluttered interface.

What do you think about a mobile version of SchwarzTech? Share your thoughts directly with us!

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